Bumper crop? Not so fast, say some farmers

A prolonged heat wave has prevented cereal and canola crops from filling seed heads and pods, say crop watchers

Jim Doerksen scoffs at reports that a bumper crop is on the way for the Canadian Prairies.

At one point he thought that was going to be the case on his son’s farm near Dalmeny, Sask. but a late-July/early-August heat wave has sapped yield potential and quality.

“It had a terrific start but the last four weeks is what killed it,” he said.

Until one month ago, the farm’s agronomist was forecasting wheat yields in the 100 to 120 bushel per acre range but after a prolonged stretch of hot weather it is looking more like 22 to 24 bushels.

“We got phenomenal stands and (the heat) just has shriveled it all up,” said Doerksen, who has farmed the land for 55 years.

The test weight on the wheat is 52 pounds per bushel and the protein content is around 18 to 19 percent.

“It’s not even fit for human consumption,” he said. “It’s just awful looking stuff.”

Paul Heglund, a farmer from Consul, Sask., took issue with reports that crops in the southwestern part of the province were looking phenomenal.

The Rural Municipality of Reno, where he farms, recently declared itself a disaster area due to drought.

It is one of the few areas of the province where Saskatchewan Agriculture has declared topsoil moisture as “very short.” Temperatures of up to 37 C haven’t helped the situation.

“It has been pretty rotten hot for this month anyway,” said Heglund.

The cereal crops are looking particularly rough.

“The best wheat will yield perhaps 25 bushels per acre,” he said.

He knows of one crop that was adjusted at three bushels per acre.

Spring wheat isn’t a big crop in the area but durum is and it is expected to average in the low-20s, while peas are coming off at 23 bushels per acre.

Sarah Tetland, crops extension specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, is hearing these types of stories trickle in from some of her crop reporters in certain areas of the province.

“Farmers are noting some heat stress symptoms in the field,” she said. “There are farmers reporting that premature ripening was happening and also the grain wasn’t filling properly.”

Maximum temperatures have exceeded 32 C for much of west-central and southwestern Saskatchewan the past couple weeks and eclipsed 34 C for large areas surrounding Saskatoon, Rosetown, Kindersley, Leader and Maple Creek.

There have been multiple reports of heat-blasting in canola fields throughout the province, which is preventing pod formation.

Tetland said she doesn’t have a handle yet on how widespread the damage is and what impact it will have on yields in those areas where crops are suffering from heat stress.

Doerksen said it has had a big impact on all the cereal crops on his son’s farm.

“The bushels are way down, way, way down,” he said.

It is disappointing because the wheat stands were superb. The straw is as high as his armpits and he is 6’2” tall. But when he rubbed the kernels in his hands he discovered the top one-third didn’t fill out.

“All it is, is hulls. It’s just shriveled right up,” said Doerksen.

It wasn’t due to a lack of water. The farm received an ample 216 millimetres of rain this growing season. It was just too hot at the wrong time.

“The plant could not bring up the moisture fast enough to finish the filling and development of the kernel,” he said.

Heads have formed on the oat crops but they are all coming out at the flag-leaf stage by his knees. With a test weight of about 35 pounds per bushel the oat crop won’t make milling grade.

Doerksen estimates the canola will yield about 30 bushels per acre, which is not enough to cover the fixed and variable costs of growing the crop.

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