Farmers mentally preparing for hectic six weeks

Roberta Galbraith has a long to-do list this spring.

The first item on the list is dealing with a section of unharvested crop, on her 4,800-acre grain farm near Minnedosa, Man.

Galbraith and her husband, Neil, were unable to harvest 650 acres last fall, mostly wheat, because snow fell in early October and flattened the crop.

“The snow came and it never left north of the valley (Little Saskatchewan River),” Galbraith said the morning of April 13, when the temperature in Minnedosa was -10 C.

“There’s lots of crop out, north of the valley.”

Hundreds of farmers across Manitoba and possibly thousands in Western Canada, will have to deal with unharvested crops before applying fertilizer and seeding new crops this spring.

The Galbraith’s plan to swath and combine the wheat.

“We’re going to try and get it. We think there’s something there,” she said.

“That’s Option A. If we have to burn it… I guess we’ll have to do that.”

Combining or destroying the remaining crop will take time during a period of the year that is always hectic. Galbraith knows the next six weeks, from now to the beginning of June, could be chaotic.

Their seed will arrive this week and their fertilizer will soon be in the yard. But once the soil thaws and farmers get on the land, it’s impossible to control all variables and

every scenario. If seeding drags on into June, then the Galbraiths will seed in June.

“We’ve put a plan together and… tried to strategize around how we might do things,” she said.

“We’re trying to get the mindset: we’ll do what we can but we’re not going to kill ourselves…. We can only do, what we can do.”

Simon Ellis, who farms near Wawanesa, Man., also has to cope with unharvested crop this spring.

He was unable to combine about 100 acres of flax and couldn’t apply fertilizer last fall because it was too wet, snowy and cold. Soils are still frozen across Manitoba, so sunny days of 10-15 C will be needed in the second half of April. If the weather co-operates, Ellis hopes to be in the field in a couple of weeks.

However, some parts of his farm will take longer to dry.

“There are (fields) that were really wet in the fall. I hope we can be on them by mid-May,” he said. “To finish harvesting, fix ruts and that sort of stuff.”

For now, Ellis has penciled in a particular crop for each field and hopes to execute on that plan.

If things get out of control, he’ll turn to other options.

“If it starts getting really late, we might start looking at crops like millet.”

Farther south and west, around Melita, most farmers were able to harvest their 2019 crop, said Scott Chalmers, a diversification specialist with Manitoba Agriculture.

Plus, the frost isn’t as deep as usual, which means the thaw should be rapid.

“I know there isn’t much frost there. I think it’s only in the top six inches,” he said.

“Past 12 inches, it (the soil temperature) is above zero. So that’s positive.”

Fields are wet around Melita but that’s probably better than dry. Much of Manitoba has suffered through three years of drought and crop yields took a hit. The average soybean yield in the province was about 27 bushels an acre in 2019, a massive drop from 40 bu. per acre in 2015 and 2016.

“There’s quite a bit of moisture out there, right now,” Chalmers said, describing the situation around Melita. “It’s a typical wet spring. No big concerns at this point.”

Producers in other regions are likely more concerned about wet fields and unharvested crop.

The Galbraith’s are taking steps to reduce their stress over the next few months. They plan to hire another farm labourer to provide extra help this spring. A surprising number of people have applied, likely because of the job losses associated with COVID-19.

“Many of them, farming wouldn’t be their first choice. But construction, oil and gas, and retail (are suffering),” Galbraith said. “(But) we’ve found enough good applicants… that I think we’ll be successful in finding somebody.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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