Exasperated grain farmers happy to wrap up harvest

Some producers may have to plow under or burn last year’s crop but many who were able to combine report good quality

The harvest from hell is finally nearing an end for some grain and oilseed growers in Western Canada.

However, in other areas, spring harvest operations are only resuming this week and the task ahead is daunting for growers who are running short on time and patience.

In some parts of northwestern Alberta, growers face difficult management decisions that could involve plowing under unharvested cereals or setting them ablaze and watching potential revenue go up in smoke.

Dale Czemeres, who farms near Dysart, Sask., about 100 kilometres northeast of Regina, finished combining the last of his 2019 acres earlier this week.

Czemeres and many of his neighbours in the Dysart, Ituna and Leross areas left a significant portion of last year’s crop in the field over winter.

Wet field conditions, tough straw, damp grain and recurring snowfalls played havoc with combining operations last fall and forced many growers to abandon their crops until this spring.

Czemeres left nearly one-third of his crop in the field last winter. He fired up the harvest machinery again on April 17 and spent the next two and a half weeks salvaging what he could.

With the 2019 harvest officially in the books, Czemeres can now turn his attention the next task at hand — managing his rutted fields and preparing for the 2020 planting season.

“It’s on,” said Czemeres when asked about prospects for planting this year’s crop. “There’s some optimism again and we’re ready to start rolling here pretty soon.”

According to Czemeres, spring harvest operations in east-central Saskatchewan have gone reasonably well.

Most growers in the Dysart and Lipton areas are making good progress and the majority are either finished the spring harvest or are close to wrapping up.

On Czemeres’s farm, evidence of the spring thresh can be seen on several fields.

“With it being so wet, there was lots of ruts and lots of digging around but we finally managed to get it all combined,” he said.

“When we started it was still frozen, which was better because the machines stayed on top of the frozen ground.”

Frozen ground eventually gave way to sloppy and muddy conditions.

Remarkably, every bushel of wheat that Czemeres harvested this spring came off dry.

“We might get a No. 3 for some of (our wheat)…,” he said.

“Most of the guys around here that are taking off canola say it’s all coming off a No. 1 with not much yield loss at all.”

With harvest 2019 nearing completion around Dysart, growers in the area are looking forward to the 2020 growing season with renewed optimism, Czemeres added.

In other parts of the West, spring harvest operations aren’t advancing so favourably.

In northwestern Alberta, some growers left the majority of last year’s acres in the field and a late snowmelt has compounded problems.

For some producers, tilling or burning last year’s unharvested cereal crops is beginning to look like the best course of action.

At Sexsmith, Alta., about 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, producer Greg Sears had about 300 acres of canola left to harvest entering this spring.

As of May 4, about half of those acres had been combined and the rest were still in the field.

“In this area, things just started to get going in earnest over the weekend,” Sears said.

“In our immediate area, a lot of the canola is starting to come off but a little further north, I think there’s some decisions being made about whether some of the cereals will be harvested or get plowed under.”

Some growers located 40 or 50 km from Sears’s farm managed to get only 30 to 40 percent of last year’s crop harvested before winter set in. In those cases, the majority of seeded acres from 2019 will have to be managed this spring — with matches or machines — before any new crop is planted.

“Those guys have a much more sizable task ahead of them,” Sears said.

In the Sexsmith area, Sears expects little farmland will go unseeded, but there could be some late cropping decisions made with growers opting for shorter season crops that are less subject to grade discounts.

“I can certainly see a little bit more feed barley going in at the tail end of the season,” Sears said.

“There’s a lot of people that haven’t finalized their cropping decisions yet, just based on what’s still out in the field and all the work that still has to be done.”

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