Too much rain poses threat to this year’s crop

With apologies to the corresponding religious quotation, this is a year when it appears that good rains giveth and bad rains taketh away.

Many areas welcomed July rains this year, but many others are wishing the tap would turn off. Too much rain threatens to be a limiting factor in crop production.

Precipitation maps have a time lag and official statistics don’t always catch localized thunderstorms. While there are no doubt producers still wishing for a good rain, overall the landscape has become wetter throughout July.

In parts of Alberta, flooding was an issue long before July rolled around. July has just added to the woes. On topography that isn’t well-drained, a lot of crop can be lost to standing water.

Areas of Alberta have also been hit with monster hailstorms shredding crops and making the landscape resemble the middle of winter. Saskatchewan has also seen some vicious hail.

Many parts of Saskatchewan have received large rains in recent weeks. In fact, the ground hardly dries from one rain and another rainfall event occurs. In a dry year, a weather forecast calling for a 30 percent chance of showers usually means not a drop will fall. This year, a 30 percent chance often means a return to muddy roads and yards.

While flooding has been an issue in some parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, rain does make grain, the landscape is green and crop condition ratings are good. You have to wonder though about a continuously wet crop canopy and the high humidity, even on the days when it isn’t raining.

Fungicide sales are strong and in my part of the world you can hear spray planes buzzing the skies. Lentils have re-emerged as a top potential money-earning crop and producers are anxious to protect yields and quality.

Unfortunately, there’s no protection from water-logged roots. Dead spots are evident in many lentils fields wherever water has ponded. Sometimes the damage follows water runs and even equipment tracks where there was some soil compaction.

Wheat and especially durum is at risk from fusarium. We could have a repeat of the fusarium problem from a few years ago when a significant percentage of the durum crop was seriously downgraded.

In canola, sclerotinia is the fear and while it’s a yield robber it doesn’t render a crop unmarketable.

Fungicide is expensive and it’s difficult to assess how successful you were in preventing disease. With herbicides, you go back and see if the weeds died. With fungicides, only check strips can provide an efficacy answer and even then it requires analysis.

In the Palliser Triangle, lack of precipitation is usually a limiting factor and it’s difficult to not be grateful every time it rains. In the black soil zone and even parts of the dark brown, too much rain is more often a crop-limiting factor than drought.

In a dry year, you can sometimes be pleasantly surprised by crop yields once the combines start rolling. In a wet year, yields might be amazing, but they might also be lower than what you expected based on the crop canopy. On crops like wheat, durum, lentils and chickpeas, a big disappointment can come from crop quality.

Rain is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing and that might be the story for 2020.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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