‘A struggle right from the start’

From one side of the Prairies to the other, good harvest weather has been in short supply this year.
 | Paul Yanko photo

Western farmers have dealt with some difficult harvest conditions over the past few years, but the harvest of 2019 might go down as the worst yet in recent memory.

“This has got to be one for the books,” said Justin Schwab, who farms with his uncle Murray Farness near Camrose, Alta.

“The last few years have been pretty tough so I’m getting a pretty thick skin. I keep telling myself they’re going to get better, but they seem to keep getting worse.”

“It’s been a struggle right from the start,” added Wade Bartkiw, who farms near Rossburn, Man.

“We’ve got about 750 acres of canola left in swaths and we just got snow again,” he said Oct. 30.

“If we could get two or three days of plus 10 C to get all the snow out of the swaths, I would say we might get it…. But at this point, with all that snow laying around, I think we’re hooped. I think it’s going to be a spring job.”

From one side of the Prairies to the other, good harvest weather has been in short supply this year.

On Schwab’s farm, every bushel of grain came off tough.

Grain drying and inventory management costs won’t be known for some time but they will be significant, he added.

As of late last week, Schwab had 50 acres of faba beans left to combine and a quarter section of soggy, lodged barley, which may or may not come off this fall.

Schwab said many farmers who have grain dryers finished combining but will be busy moving grain for weeks to come.

Growers who don’t have dryers are further behind.

“The guys that don’t have grain dyers are a little bit gun shy to take off canola at 15 or 17 percent moisture, and I don’t blame them.”

At Grayson, Sask., about 60 kilometres south of Yorkton, Sask., Danny Ottenbreit has almost thrown in the towel on what’s been a stressful and costly harvest season.

“We’ve got 450 acres of spring wheat in swaths and it just keeps snowing,” Ottenbreit said late last week.

“Some people around here are still grinding away on standing canola and standing wheat but … anything in the swath likely isn’t going to come off this year,” he said.

Ottenbreit said the financial impact of grade losses and lost production on his farm will almost certainly be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Whatever’s out there now is probably going to be a write-off,” he said.

“Even if you’ve got crop insurance, you know you’re not going to get what you we’re hoping to get off those fields, dollar-wise.”

About 300 kilometres southeast of Grayson, near Elgin, Man., Scott Perkin still had nearly 2,000 acres to take off as of late last week, including 1,200 acres of soybeans, 600 acres of corn and 100 acres of canola.

Perkin said a continuation of sub-zero temperatures and no more snow would probably allow him to get most of his soybeans and corn.

Warmer temperatures would mean further delays and a return to the wet, muddy and unmanageable field conditions that have characterized the 2019 harvest season in much of southwestern Manitoba.

Perkin’s farm has received about 250 millimetres of precipitation since harvest started roughly two months, he said.

“Before it froze, we spent a lot of time fighting with mud, I mean really fighting.”

“We were getting stuck with everything. We couldn’t even drive a pick-up truck in the field. Just unbelievable conditions — conditions that people haven’t ever seen before at harvest time.”

With cold temperatures, a significant amount of unharvested soybean and corn acres in southwestern Manitoba could still come off.

But the outlook for other crops, including standing wheat and canola, is grim.

As of late last week, an estimated 10 percent of Manitoba’s canola crop (roughly 325,000 acres) was still in the field.

Anecdotal reports say that number is closer to 15 or 20 percent in many parts of southwestern Manitoba.

On Perkin’s farm, the unexpected costs stemming from poor harvest weather will be “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, for sure.”

“It’s a combination of things — repairs because of the mud and difficult conditions, lost time, extra fuel costs. We’ve also dried a lot of grain and we’ve lost grade on a lot of grain.”

“I’ve only been farming for 15 years but this is probably the most challenging harvest I’ve ever seen, by far,” he continued.

“It would definitely be one that we would love to forget completely.”

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