Crops across many parts of the Prairies appear late so far this year, causing concern among farmers as potential killing frosts approach.
In Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as parts of Manitoba, cereals and oilseeds are behind in maturity, largely due to late germination or cooler temperatures in mid-summer.
“There are definitely concerns because producers are wondering how they can manage it,” said Cory Jacob, a crop extension specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.
“There might be implications, but we just don’t know until we see how harvest goes and until the first fall frost occurs.”
Jacob said the late crops in Saskatchewan are a result of later germination. He said producers seeded in May and early June, but much of the moisture didn’t arrive until the end of June.
Saskatchewan is only two percent done harvest this year, well behind the five-year average of nine percent, according to the Aug. 22 crop report.
“The lateness is pretty widespread in the province,” Jacob said. “Only the northeast and northwest areas weren’t as short on moisture in the spring, so we’re seeing less of it there.”
Kyle Heggie, who farms near Leross, Sask., said farmers in his area would usually be knocking down canola by now, but this year the crop is still about two weeks away.
He said he is hoping for warmer temperatures.
“It’ll be very worrisome for the next few weeks,” he said. “It looks like a good crop and could be a little above average, but that could change if a killing frost comes in earlier than we would like.”
A similar story is playing out in much of Alberta.
Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture, said along with late germinating crops, there were areas that had been experiencing cool and wet weather in the middle of summer, which made growth even slower.
He said many producers would benefit if a killing frost held off until at least Sept. 30.
“There are some real boomer crops out there but they are taking longer to mature,” he said. “We just need the heat.”
As well, Brook said he’s worried about producers who experienced hail damage earlier this year.
Damaged crops have regrown, but it’s complicating harvest because they are maturing at a slower rate.
“If they’ve got crops at different levels of maturity, they’ll have to pick and choose as to who is going to win and who is going to lose,” he said.
John Guelly farms near Westlock, Alta., and is chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. He said he managed to get his canola in earlier than most people, but it is still 10 days behind average.
He said he might have to swath it by the calendar date rather than by its actual readiness.
“We might have to take it off early, but maybe things will improve if we get more sunshine,” he said. “We are really going to have to keep an eye on the weather.”
In Manitoba, there have been some delays in the northwest but it’s not excessively late, said Dane Froese, an oilseed crop specialist with Manitoba Agriculture.
He said some of the later moisture in the area, as well as early season stresses such as flea beetles, have contributed to the minor delay.
Froese said some farmers had to reseed canola because of the flea beetle damage.
“It’s not too concerning, but it is concerning that we’ve had fairly cool overnight temperatures,” he said. “We’re really hoping that there won’t be that early frost because we could have some issues associated with that.”
The bigger challenge in Manitoba, he said, has been forage production this year. He said some cattle herds are already being supplemented, and pastures will likely be damaged due to overgrazing and lack of growth.
As for the late crops this year, specialists say there isn’t much farmers can do to mitigate the issue.
Brook, however, said producers could swath or apply a pre-harvest herbicide to the crop when it has 30 percent moisture in the seed.
Once it’s down to 20 percent moisture, he said, the crop is safe from frost damage.
“If you do it too early, you’re going to impair the yield potential,” he said. “There is no prediction for freeze temperatures, and I hope they stay away for a long time.”