White headache

Early snow and lodging are the latest roadblocks facing prairie producers as they fight with a late harvest by Brian Cross, Saskatoon newsroom

An early blast of winter that dumped variable amounts of freezing rain and snow across most of Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba last weekend has created another headache for prairie grain growers.

“Harvest will certainly be delayed further,” said Shannon Friesen, provincial crops specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture.

“Our biggest issue now is likely going to be lodging, simply because we had such a heavy, wet snow.”

“Any crop that was standing is likely not standing anymore. Areas that got rain might have lucked out a bit, but in areas that got snow, there’s a really good chance that any standing crop has been knocked right over.”

A large weather system delivered rain, snow and high winds to much of Western Canada Sept. 29-30.

According to Environment Canada, snowfall accumulations as of early Sept. 30 ranged from a few centimetres in some areas to 25 cm or more in Calgary and parts of southwestern Saskatchewan.

Total snowfall in the Lethbridge area as of late Sept. 29 ranged from 45 to 55 cm.

Snow continued to fall Sept. 30 in many areas, with generally lower accumulations reported in areas north and east of Highway 16.

The late September snowstorm compounded frustrations in what has already been a slow and costly harvest for grain and oilseed producers.

Feedgrain will be plentiful this year and conditioning costs continue to rise.

“Certainly, even prior to all this moisture, we were dealing with a lot of sprouting and bleaching and staining in much of the cereal crop, as well as the pulses,” Friesen said.

“That’s something that we’re expecting now is that there’s going to be a lot of feedgrain coming off. Not only do we have issues related to sprouting and bleaching and what not, but a lot of it will now be (lodged and) sitting wet in a field, so further downgrading is expected.”

In Saskatchewan, harvest operations were nearing 50 percent complete before the latest storm.

Calvin Buhs, who farms south of Watson, Sask., said most cereals had been harvested in his area as of Sept. 27, but close to 80 percent of the canola was still in the field.

“It’s been a real struggle,” said Buhs, who had almost 6,000 acres of canola left to harvest before last weekend’s snowfall.

“We just didn’t get enough sun and heat to get the crops dried down.”

With decent weather conditions, Buhs said he would need a solid week or more, running five combines, to get this year’s crop in the bin.

Buhs said crops in east-central Saskatchewan were two to three weeks behind from the get go. Harvest delays have pushed things even further behind schedule.

In east-central Alberta, harvest progress has also been slow, said grain farmer Kent Erickson.

Erickson, who farms near Irma, Alta., about 175 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, estimated that about 20 to 40 percent of the crop in his area had been harvested as of Sept. 30.

Most of the crops have been swathed or desiccated and are ready to be taken as soon as the weather co-operates, he added.

But patience is running thin and stress is mounting.

“There have been very few canola bushels taken off in our area,” Erickson said.

Most of the guys around here have been going after their wheat first, but progress has been slow,” Erickson said.

“Seventeen (percent moisture) is the new dry for wheat in our area. I don’t think there’s been a bit of dry wheat or barley — or anything for that matter — that’s come off dry so far.”

Erickson reckons that cereal crops in the Irma area are roughly 50 to 60 percent combined, with better-than-average yields but below-average quality.

The canola harvest is about 20 percent complete, at the most.

Erickson said most growers in central and northern Alberta will need two to three weeks of continuously good weather in October if they hope to get this year’s crop off before winter arrives to stay.

“When the sun comes out, October can be warm and we can get a decent dry spell,” he said.

“If we can get out there continuously, without interruptions, guys have the ability now — with the equipment that we have — to get a lot done.”

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