Manitoba farmers watch for signs of rain

Rain is needed, soon, in eastern and south-central Manitoba. Otherwise, soybean, corn and canola yields could be pitiful in 2019.

Clayton Harder, who farms north of Winnipeg, estimated that 15 millimetres of rain have fallen on his land since seeding. That’s basically nothing for the region around Winnipeg, which normally receives 150 mm of rain in May and June.

Based on Environment Canada data, 25 mm of rain fell on Winnipeg in June. In a normal year, Winnipeg receives about 90 mm of rain in June.

On July 2, Environment Canada said the first six months of 2019 were the driest on record for Winnipeg, with only 91.1 mm of precipitation from Jan. 1 to June 30.

“It’s just been so far below normal, it’s just astonishing,” Harder said. “I’ve only been farming for 20 years. It’s the driest I’ve ever seen it.”

In a normal year, Harder sprays his crops with fungicide in early July.

That hasn’t happened this year.

“I spoke to a couple of other guys this morning (July 4) … and almost nobody is using fungicide around here. Typically, we would spray everything with fungicide because we live in a high moisture environment and disease is so prevalent,” said Harder, vice-president of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association.

“There is zero disease right now and there is lower yield potential, so it (fungicide) isn’t justifiable.”

Many crops in the Red River Valley and central and eastern Manitoba are much shorter than normal.

“We have oats that are heading out (and are) below your knees,” Harder said. “Wheat is about the same.”

Harder also grows soybeans and canola on his farm. Those crops could rebound if rain falls in the next 10 to 15 days.

Chuck Fossay, who farms west of Winnipeg by Starbuck, Man., said crops are also shorter than normal on his farm.

The growing conditions are comparable to droughts in the 1980s, but with one exception. Cool nights.

“In 1980 and 1989, if I remember right, we had these very hot days and hot nights and strong winds. Those conditions really dried out the crop and cooked it,” he said. “So far this year we’ve been getting some pretty cool nights. And the plants have put down some pretty good roots and they have a chance to recover, a bit, in the cool of the night.”

Southwestern Manitoba did receive 50 to 100 mm of rain in late June, but other parts of the province are lacking moisture. Between May 1 and July 1, about 50 percent of normal precipitation has fallen in many parts of the Parkland and the Interlake.

If it remains dry Western Canadian soybean production could be much smaller this year, because the majority of soybeans are grown in eastern and central Manitoba.

However, there’s no need for panic, said Cassandra Tkachuk, production specialist with the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers.

Soybeans are hardy and with some rain in July, the plants should recover from a rough start to the growing season.

“June is just a terrible month for soybeans, no matter what. They’ll look not great and you’ve got a lot of stressors (on the plants),” she said. “(But) it is quite resilient.”

As of press time July 8, rain was forecast for July 9-10 in Manitoba.

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