All eyes locked on the sky as dryness persists

The moisture deficit is serious in a large portion of Western Canada. Widespread rain this week would ensure germination and get crops out of the ground, but frequent and substantial rain will be needed throughout the growing season. I File photo

Over the years, I’ve written many columns about moisture concerns and how the lack of rain was going to result in a below average crop either regionally, provincially or across Western Canada.

Often I’ve been proven wrong. Rain has arrived and yields have been much better than expected.

That makes me hesitant to sound alarm bells when it’s still May. We don’t lose crops in May. Sometimes in June or even July when we thought the crop was lost, we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

As I write this, rain is forecast for some areas later in the week. That would be huge. Fingers are crossed because rain events don’t always materialize as forecast and that can be a major disappointment.

The moisture deficit is serious in a large portion of Western Canada. Widespread rain this week would ensure germination and get crops out of the ground, but frequent and substantial rain will be needed throughout the growing season. It’s difficult to imagine enough timely rain to compensate for the accumulated deficit, but here’s hoping.

With record high prices for many commodities, this is certainly the year to grow a good crop and cash in on the rewards. Despite all the advances in technology, long-range precipitation forecasts are almost useless. It’s amazing we pay so much attention to long-range forecasts, both scientific and whimsical, when they are so utterly unreliable.

What we do know is that soil moisture reserves are very low in most regions. That ace in the hole is lacking and it could be a costly problem. A huge investment in seed, fertilizer and crop protection products is being gambled on the whims of Mother Nature.

It’s still possible to imagine a scenario where rain arrives and the crop is bountiful.

It’s more difficult to come up with a scenario that saves hay and pasture production. Early spring moisture generates a good hay crop and that has been missed. Additionally, cold weather and frequent frosts took a toll on grass development.

Feed supplies for cattle could be at a premium. Watch for hay prices to escalate, matching or surpassing the increase in values we’ve already seen for feed grains.

While regional droughts regularly cut crop and hay production, widespread droughts have been rare in recent times. A large portion of Western Canada was decimated by drought in 1988 and the 2001-02 timeframe was also difficult over an extended region.

Surplus moisture and unseeded acreage have often been a bigger concern than drought, but the pendulum appears to be swinging the other direction this year.

Not every year can generate average and above average yields. While the overall trend is to higher and higher production, expect setbacks and this could be one of those years.

When yield targets are exceeded year after year and crop disasters do not materialize, it’s easy to get complacent about crop insurance. As well, a large percentage of producers have dropped out of AgriStability.

Like other forms of insurance, it’s best if you never collect. However, as we watch the sky for rainclouds over the next few months, there may be producers that regret their decision to farm without a safety net.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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