Timely rain helps crops hang on in Manitoba

The province’s farmers have received moisture when they need it, but more must fall as the growing season progresses

The Manitoba crop is suffering through one of the driest spring seasons in history.  |  file photo

On June 26, Bill Campbell was worried about the crops near Minto, Man.Canola, corn and other crops were suffering in the area around his farm, because of dry soil, dry winds and temperatures in the high 20s.

Then, on June 27, about a half inch of rain fell on his farm and it changed his mood.

“There are no puddles or anything, but it came very nicely and soaked in,” said Campbell, who operates a cattle and grain farm and is president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.

“It will buy us another week, maybe.”

Manitoba Agriculture weather data shows that much of southwestern and central Manitoba received eight to 16 mm of rain on the last Sunday of June. The rain was needed because most of agricultural Manitoba has been in a drought this spring, with scarce amounts of subsoil moisture.

In May, Trevor Hadwen, agro-climate specialist at Agriculture Canada in Regina, said subsoil moisture in Manitoba and parts of southeastern Saskatchewan was severely below normal.

“I’m not sure it’s the driest (spring) ever… we’re showing it’s in the 95 percentile…. Out of 100 years, it’s one of the top-five driest years.”

To compensate for the lack of subsoil moisture, Manitoba farmers needed regular rains this spring to support crop development. Thankfully, rainfall from May 1 to the end of June has been average in the region with many locations recording 100 percent of the normal precipitation for the period, based on Manitoba Agriculture weather data.

A Manitoba Agriculture map illustrating rainfall from May 1 to the third week of June is mostly coloured blue and green, which is much better than orange and red.

The May and June rainfall hasn’t restored subsoil moisture or fixed the drought, but the recent 10-15 mm of rain should sustain cereal, oilseeds and soybean crops — for a short time.

“It’s almost week to week, or day to day,” Campbell said. “The crops, in some places… are doing miraculously well, given the circumstances.”

Rauri Qually, who farms west of Winnipeg, said his crops look decent and his soybeans look promising.

“It’s a beautiful crop…. They look lovely, all nice and uniform. But we could really use some rain on them…. In the next week, we’re going to need some type of precipitation,” he said, adding cereal crops in the region are starting to head out. “My barley and my oats are starting to get into more advanced stages, which probably means an early harvest.”

Canola, though, is one crop that has struggled this spring.

For example, canola fields near St. Pierre Jolys, south of Winnipeg, look short and patchy. Many fields were in full bloom on June 26, possibly because of heat and drought stress.

In other parts of the province, some canola fields are doing better.

“I’ve seen some beautiful canola crops… you can find those hidden gems,” said Justine Cornelsen, Canola Council of Canada agronomist in Manitoba.

As for canola fields that are patchy, Cornelsen said the situation may look worse than it is.

“(Many fields) are still hitting plant counts where you can achieve 100 percent of your yield potential,” she said, while driving on the Trans-Canada between Virden and Brandon. “The crop is so plastic, it will fill in those gaps… and the bare patches.”

The next couple of weeks will be critical for the canola crop, as 30 degree temperatures could shorten the bloom period and cut into yield potential.

Manitoba producers and agronomists will have a better handle on the 2021 canola crop, in a couple of weeks.

“If we get the heat wave during full flower, that’s obviously going to cause some damage,” Cornelsen said. “We’ve got to get through that flowering phase, to see what we’ve got to work with, for pods and seed set.”

robert.arnason@producer.com

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