The aftermath: tallying damage

Doug Schofer of Melville, Sask., searches for sandbags that fell off his tractor’s bucket. The road into his farm was flooded but luckily his house, barns and bins were safe. Residents of eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba scrambled to protect themselves and their belongings from floods last week. Although the water has receded for many, cleanup continues.  |  William DeKay photo

Acres under water | The length of saturation time and maturity affect crops’ ability to recover

Analysts are busy tearing-up, revising and just simply guesstimating their projections for the size of the 2014-15 Western Canadian crop.

The massive rain-caused flooding and saturation has nullified months of careful analysis of what Prairie farmers are likely to produce this summer.

With crucial areas soaked, under water and delayed, it is difficult to get a good sense of how much crop is actually still out there.

“That’s what I was just discussing with my colleague,” said Chris Ferris, an analyst with Informa Economics’ Winnipeg office.

“The percentage (of average production) at this point, I’m still trying to put it together.”

CWB analyst Bruce Burnett said only one easy conclusion is possible right now, and that’s that Western Canada will not produce Prairie-wide bumper yields this year like it did last year.

“That’s totally off the table now,” said Burnett. “It’s going to be down from (not only) last year levels, but even from average levels.”

Beyond that general analysis, specific numbers are hard to develop.

Analysts are coping with a guessing game because the saturation crisis is still unfolding, even if the initial blanket of heavy rains is well past. The amount of time each type of crop is under water or has its roots soaked, determines how much damage that crop will suffer.

That is significantly affected by how far advanced the crop is at the time when it is saturated. Well-developed crops are better able to handle saturation stress.

But prairie crops vary widely in development because farmers this spring had problems getting most of their crops in at the usual times. Most farmers have some early fields and some late fields. That makes estimating general damage challenging.

And the saturation level is far from uniform. Many farms in the Melville, Sask., to Melita, Man., region had or have some cropland completely underwater, have some saturated and have some wet but not saturated fields.

Some areas will end up drowned-out, while others will see yield reductions and yet others will still likely end up getting back to average yield potential.

Beyond damage to plants’ inherent yield potential from saturation, crop potential will also be hit by two factors that are potentially more significant this year than in most: disease and weeds.

The rains came when most farmers were hoping to do their post-emergent herbicide spraying and many have had to delay or abandon those plans.

If farmers can’t get into their fields until the weeds are well-advanced and crop canopies are closed, their ability to control yield-reducing weed flushes is hampered.

Humidity-induced crop diseases can wreak havoc in fields if crop-level air stays moist for weeks.

The impact of the saturation situation on production is most significant for crops heavily concentrated in the region, such as flax and canola.

Flax is a small acreage crop, so supply and demand fundamentals are most vulnerable to the rain and flooding.

Canola is one of the most common crops in the soaked region, so overall Canadian production is likely to see a real impact.

“The wet spot constitutes close to 40 percent of total production on average,” said Burnett.

For wheat and other cereals the market impact will likely be less significant because production is spread out across the Prairies and because Canadian production is a small percentage of world production.

“When you’re talking about a 600 million tonne wheat crop globally, losing a few million tonnes in Canada does not change that much.”

Farmers won’t be happy to have lost production to the late-June rains, but their impact might reduce the lingering stress on the prairie grain handling system that still is having trouble moving the 2013-14 crop.

Before the present crop size estimate reductions, many worried that another larger than average prairie crop would exacerbate the problems farmers have had moving their crops to ports.

That is no longer expected to be a problem for 2014-15.

However, the situation will vary region to region, as areas with particularly bad saturation losses will likely find elevators less clogged at harvest and during the fall and winter, while areas in the western Prairies will probably see elevators continuing to cope with large local supplies of crop.

Western Canadian crop production estimates will be vague for weeks as analysts scour for information about the longer term impact.

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