Local farmer Marc Loeppky has few words to describe this year’s crop production other than that it’s “all over the map.” Loeppky’s farm, located immediately southwest of Niverville, consists of 3,200 acres of planted fields. This year’s crops include peas, oats, spring wheat, canola, soybeans, and corn.
Spring flooding followed by a series of heavy rainfalls got the growing season off to a late start for many southeastern Manitoba farmers this year. Traditionally, Loeppky says, weather conditions allow for a late April to early May start to seeding.
With the expectation of some inclement weather and a few possible machinery breakdowns along the way, Loeppky adds that, under typical circumstances, seeding would then be completed somewhere around the May long weekend.
“This year we started May 17, were rained out on the 18th, started back up again on the 25th, and went till the 28th before we were rained out again,” Loeppky says. “Then we started again on June 6 and finished up June 10th.”
In an effort to create flow, which saves the farmer valuable time throughout the growing season, Loeppky says that various crop types are typically seeded one at a time.
As well, since crop rotation is a necessary part of managing crop disease, specific fields are predesignated for certain crop types each year.
Unfortunately, the handicaps experienced by Loeppky in springtime served to change the course of his entire growing season.
“This year, because it was so late, we seeded whichever field was dry enough with the crop that had been planned and sometimes fertilized for last fall,” says Loeppky. “The result of this lingers all season, equating to absolutely no flow to anything and a lot more time spent switching between crops.”
Loeppky was met with other challenges along the way, too. Constant wind and rain throughout the summer made crop-spraying difficult. And the number of high heat days the southeast experienced was substantially lower than previous years.
According to one of Loeppky’s sources, Manitoba averages approximately 13 days of 30+ degree Celsius temperatures every summer. In 2021, that number almost doubled with 34 days of high heat.
By September of this year, southeast Manitoba had only seen about five days of high heat throughout the entire growing season.
As expected, the transition into harvest season has also been delayed by about two to three weeks.
“Normally we start harvest on the second week of August and this year we started August 31,” says Loeppky. “We harvested three days and will wait a week for anything else to be ready.”
This wait, he adds, is the result of nine days in spring where rain made seeding impossible. The crop-to-crop flow of harvest is also lost this year. So far, Loeppky’s been able to harvest one field of wheat, one field of peas, and one of canola.
As September rolls in, though, Loeppky has been somewhat buoyed by the promise of sunshine and the lack of precipitation in the forecast for the coming days.
For him and other crop farmers, a later start to harvest means working with ever-decreasing periods of daylight every day. This equates to more harvest days required to get the crop into the bin for the winter.
Of course, fall temperatures eventually bring frost, which is of particular risk for crops such as corn and soybeans. Loeppky says September 13 is a common date held up for first frost of the fall season. He’s crossing his fingers that this, too, will delay a little longer this year.
Speaking to the quality of the crops coming in so far, Loeppky says his early crops have done remarkably well given the stress they were under. In the sections of field where water was a constant issue, he anticipates yields below average.
To be a farmer means to roll with the punches. But this year Mother Nature wasn’t the only one getting in the way. Like all other Manitobans, farmers too have been going head-to-head with the high price of fuel, fertilizer, equipment, and other costs of doing business, referred to as input costs.
“Unfortunately, we can't dictate the price we get for commodities,” Loeppky says, referring to the value of the individual crop he grows. “This year they’ve been fairly high, which will offset the increased input costs. Tough times are ahead when the prices come down and the inputs don’t—which we know will happen.”
Loeppky adds that supply, too, has been a huge problem in his industry. There were times earlier this year when the availability of fertilizers and chemicals seemed dicey. Getting quick replacement parts when equipment broke down was equally problematic.
And everything, he says, came with an insanely inflated price tag.
“All these things we need to produce a crop, so not a lot has changed in our practices other than trying to be proactive and carrying more inventory of parts and pre-ordering inputs,” Loeppky concludes.
Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen