Harvest begins on Prairies; good yields expected

Hot, dry weather may have affected canola yields but an early start to harvest is welcomed by farmers

Harvest has officially begun on what looks to be a potentially huge crop in Western Canada.

In southern Alberta and parts of southern Saskatchewan, combines were rolling as of late last week in fall-seeded cereal crops and a few early-desiccated pulses.

Hot, dry weather during the last week of July and the first week of August hastened crop development in many areas and has growers anticipating a reasonably early start to this year’s harvest season.

“It’s been quite warm throughout all of Saskatchewan the last few weeks,” said Sara Tetland, a crop extension specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture.

“Those warm temperatures have really helped crops to progress.”

In Alberta, crops have advanced quickly, thanks to hot and dry conditions, added Jeremy Boychyn, an agronomy research extension specialist with the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Alberta growers in southern areas around Foremost and Milk River had already begun harvesting early crops as of Aug. 6, Boychyn said.

Producers in central regions are anticipating an average start to the harvest season, with above average yield potential.

“From what I’ve seen so far, things look generally on time,” said Boychyn.

“I would say we’re on par for an average start … but weather really plays a huge role (in how quickly crops will finish).”

With 2019’s harvest from hell still fresh in their minds, western Canadian grain farmers will welcome an early start to the 2020 harvest season.

Last fall, growers in many parts of the West struggled to get their crops off before winter set in.

This summer, conditions are looking generally favourable, said Boychyn. He said growers in most of southern and central Alberta are looking at an average start with potentially big yields.

“In general, things look great,” Boychyn said.

“We have a lot of above-average looking areas in terms of the wheat crop. There are also some challenged parts of the province, mostly due to extremely high moisture … but outside of those areas, the crop looks good.”

“Anyone that I’ve talked to in that central and southern parts of the province is expecting a larger-than-average crop this year, so I think we’re looking at big potential.”

While recent warm temperatures have helped crops to mature quickly, they have also caused stress in some areas.

In Saskatchewan, provincial soil moisture ratings have deteriorated in many areas. Provincial crop reporters in many regions have noted heat blasting in canola and shorter-than-normal flowering periods in some cereals and oilseed crops.

“We’ve had multiple reports of producers noting heat blast, especially in canola crops that (were) still in the flowering stage,” Tetland said.

“There’s also been reports of crops going through the flowering stage too quickly, which can (affect yield).”

“Areas (like the northeast) where they’ve had more moisture aren’t seeing as many symptoms, because maybe it hasn’t been quite as warm but also, they have a little bit more moisture to support those crops in those high temperatures,” Tetland added.

But “some farmers have noted that they’ve seen stressed out crops and stressed out pastures because of the heat and a lack of moisture.”

Curtis Rempel, vice-president of crop production and innovation with the Canola Council of Canada, said consistently hot temperatures in late July and early August probably had a negative impact on overall canola yields.

When temperatures reach the high 20s and low 30s, pollen viability is reduced, meaning yield is reduced.

Rempel said it’s hard to predict how much the late-July, early-August heat wave affected canola yields across the Prairies.

Realistically, average yields could conceivably see a reduction of one to two bushels per acre off their previous high-end potential.

“It (the extreme heat) rolled across the Prairies in waves and I think it did hit a large portion of our flowering crop,” Rempel said.

“When you have temperatures over (a certain level), the viability of the pollen that’s produced would be dropping dramatically, so of course you don’t have fertilization then. You just have sterile pollen.”

The negative impacts can be even more dramatic if night time temperatures remain high, he added.

“I think the breeding community has made efforts to climate-proof the crop by changing pollen sensitivity,” but yields can be impacted.

Under stressful environmental conditions, canola plants are also hard-wired to shorten their flowering period and focus on setting seeds, Rempel added.

“If the flowering period is shorter, that can have some impact on yield as well.”

Despite the negative impact caused by the recent hot weather, the western Canadian canola crop is still shaping up to be an average-sized crop, with upside or above-average potential, Rempel said.

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