Crop development variability causes harvest challenges

MONTREAL — Many western Canadian crops look great.

But many are late and some have a wide range of maturities, as this summer’s mixed bag of weather conditions delayed and mixed up crop development.

“Most people (in my area) are saying the crops are at least a nine out of 10,” said Allison Ammeter, a central Alberta farmer, during the Pulse and Special Crops Convention.

“The only problem is that because we’ve had so much cool, rainy weather the crops are gorgeous but they’re very late. We need to avoid a late frost.”

St. Paul, Alta., farmer Don Shepert is seeing a similar situation.

“We’re late, but it looks really good. This could be an above-average pea crop,” said Shepert.

However, all around the convention was chatter that the staginess of crops was going to create a lot of harvest challenges, as parts of crops were fully mature well before other parts, even in the same field.

And some in the industry are worried that this staginess could cause an increase in chemical residue problems, just as buyers and world markets get more concerned about residues.

Many chemicals used in the latter stages of crop development can leave a residue if they are not used correctly.

Commodity groups and industry organizations have been pushing hard to get the “keep it clean” message foremost in farmers’ minds, but the range of crop stages in some fields makes mistakes more likely than in more uniform years.

During a discussion on the development of maximum residue levels around the world, Pulse Canada’s market access and trade specialist, Mac Ross, said many countries are departing from international standards and creating their own standards.

“We’re seeing a shift in the trading environment,” said Ross.

Farmers don’t have as many options as they did before, said Carl Potts, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.

“The number of products farmers can use is dwindling,” he noted.

During market outlook presentations over the two-day convention, analysts often noted that the size and quality of this summer’s crop will be hard to assess until it’s in the bin. There were many unusual weather impacts, and any problems around harvest time could significantly change results.

One farmer who doesn’t have to worry much about an early frost or multi-staged crops in his non-irrigated fields is Greg Stamp, a southern Alberta farmer who faced drought this year.

“The dryland crops are the worst I’ve ever had,” he noted ruefully.

“When you can see dirt between the plants from the road, it’s not good.”

For most other prairie farmers, whether they get a great, good, OK or terrible crop is still going to be an open question for weeks to come, until crops have matured and harvest occurred.

“We’re either going to have gorgeous yields and bumper crops or we’re going to have a real problem on our hands,” said Ammeter.

That’s something the entire grain industry is anxiously watching, too.

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