Prairie farmers facing huge, costly task

Farmers near Beauvallon, Alta., try to complete their harvest last week between the rain showers and snow. It’s been a similar situation across the Prairies.  |  Candace Phillips photo

Provincial crop reports from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba paint a bleak picture of harvest progress across the Prairies.

As of late October, more than eight million acres of unharvested crops were still in the field, according to the provincial reports.

That included roughly 1.25 million acres in Manitoba, 3.5 million acres in Saskatchewan and 3.4 million acres in Alberta.

Cory Jacob, regional crops specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said producers in Saskatchewan are still picking away at unharvested acres, but the likelihood of getting everything in the bin before next spring is low, and getting lower by the day.

“There’s a significant amount of acres,” still out there, Jacob said.

“When you say 10 percent, it doesn’t sound too bad, but when you say 3.5 or maybe even closer to four million acres (in Saskatchewan) that sounds like a lot.”

“If we can get a good stretch of weather in November, more will come off, but we won’t get it all. I just can’t see that happening.”

Across Western Canada, frequent rain and untimely snowfall have caused significant harvest delays and headaches for producers.

In some parts of the Prairies, more than 250 millimetres of precipitation have been recorded since harvest began.

In the hardest hit areas of southern Manitoba, total snowfall amounts over the past two months are approaching 50 centimetres.

Abundant precipitation, combined with intermittent melting, has resulted in extremely wet conditions.

In many areas, saturated fields are unable to support the weight of machinery, meaning further harvest progress will only be possible on frozen ground.

Some Manitoba growers said they started harvest in the first half of August and were still not close to being finished as of Nov. 1.

That’s an unusually long harvest period — almost as long as it takes some crops to reach full maturity, post emergence.

In southwestern Manitoba, growers will be working well into November to clean up late-maturing crops, such as soybeans and corn.

Those crops are often taken after freeze-up, however accumulated snowfall has already played havoc with the soybean harvest and will likely become a bigger factor as the harvest drags on and snowfall accumulates.

According to Manitoba Agriculture, nearly 500,000 acres of soybeans were still in the field as of Oct. 29, along with 350,000 acres of silage and grain corn and more than 320,000 acres of canola.

Assuming average canola yields of 45 bushels per acre (based on 2018 data from Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp.), nearly 14.5 million bushels of canola was still sitting in Manitoba fields as of late last week, with a potential value of roughly $150 million.

In Saskatchewan and Alberta, the situation is even more dire for canola growers.

In those two provinces combined, more than two million acres of canola remained unharvested as of late last week, according to provincial crop reports.

Assuming average yields in the range of 45 bushels per acre, the value of unharvested canola in Saskatchewan and Alberta is nearing $1 billion.

Elsewhere across the West, unharvested spring wheat acres were estimated at nearly 1.75 million acres, unharvested oat acres were pegged at more than one million, and unharvested barley was estimated at 650,000 acres.

Over the past few years, prairie farmers have become accustomed to harvesting in November.

In 2016, Saskatchewan growers had more seven million acres in the field as of Nov. 1, according to Saskatchewan Agriculture.

Harvest progress was also unusually slow in 2018, although favourable conditions in November allowed the province’s farmers to make up some ground late in the year.

Although growers are tired and frustrated, they will be doing everything possible to get what they can before winter conditions settle in for good, Jacob suggested.

“Right now, if they can bring it off — as long as they can condition it or dry it for storage — it will still marketable,” he said.

“But if they have to leave it until April or May for harvesting, there’s going to be lower quality, loss of yield and there’s the potential then for it not being marketable.”

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