'If there ever was a year to do well, this is it': Farmers race against the clock

·4 min read

RIVERS — Ron Krahn stood on the back of a grey loading truck Wednesday morning, attentively watching its bed fill with thousands of tiny blue pellets of seeding fertilizer.

He was up at 5:30 a.m. doing the same thing and, as long as the weather holds up, he’ll be out past dark.

An 18-hour workday has been Krahn’s new normal over the past several weeks, as he races to seed his grain crops in between frequent rainfalls that continue to besiege southwestern Manitoba.

But Krahn, a third-generation farmer, is taking the long days over the alternative.

Over the past week alone, more than 110 millimetres of rain have drenched his 4,800 acres of land — 261 per cent above normal, according to a Manitoba Agriculture crop weather report.

That downpour was a microcosm of what has plagued him and farmers across the province this spring, keeping them indoors and unable to start their season on time.

"It was a lot of sitting around and anxiously waiting," Krahn said.

The 24-year veteran farmer drove his truck, still painted with mud, around hundreds of kilometres of saturated land in the days following each rain storm, scouring fields for a dry patch to begin planting crops.

Krahn typically starts seeding soybeans around April 20 and is done by the May long weekend, he said. This year, he started on May 5 and had completed just one-third by Victoria Day.

"It’s been a late start," he said. "Probably this year more than ever, there’s danger of not getting everything seeded."

In many of his fields, Krahn is seeding five to 10 acres less this year than last year in order to avoid oversaturated areas.

Even then, he is one of the fortunate farmers. His 35 per cent of seeded land is well above the 10 per cent provincial average, according to a Manitoba Agriculture crop report.

"I’ve never gotten such a sense of urgency that some people might not see their whole farm," he said.

While a lot of farmland is still underwater, there’s also a lot of land that isn’t underwater but still too wet to seed, Krahn explained, adding now farmers risk seeding too late.

Late crops may not get enough heat throughout the growing season to eventually be harvested in time for fall.

That can push some growers to postpone harvesting but risk exposing crops to frost in late September, yielding lower, and sometimes, no income at all for their product.

Krahn, like other farmers, is also racing to meet the ever-important crop insurance deadline.

The insurance covers farmers whose crops can’t grow due to diseases or bad weather like hail, frost and excess rain.

But to qualify for crop insurance, farmers must be finished seeding.

"There’s real concern [of not hitting deadlines]," Krahn said.

The first crop insurance deadline, soybeans, is May 31.

Krahn said he’s confident he’ll make it in time.

Sunflowers must be seeded by June 10, and wheat, canola and peas by June 15.

Krahn said he must juggle his planting strategy accordingly if he doesn’t think he’ll make one of the deadlines.

"When it’s a bad year, insurance is something that definitely plays into your decision-making," he said.

Krahn is still filled with optimism heading into this summer. The price of grain is "tremendous," and favourable weather could produce a year similar to his banner season in 2021.

"If there ever was a year to do well, this is it," he said.

Now is the time when many farmers have a sense of optimism and opportunity, said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.

"If you’re not optimistic when you’re seeding a crop, then there’s probably no other time when you’re optimistic."

Campbell said soil temperature and soil conditions are among the biggest concerns for many growers. The soil must not only be able to handle the heavy machinery driving over it, but also allow for adequate germination among the crops.

"Rain is not helpful at this stage in the game," he said. "Fields with flat and heavier soils are seeing quite the challenge to get on them and seeded."

Campbell said it’s difficult to analyze what the end result could be if inclement weather continues to restrict farmers from seeding.

"We all know you cannot harvest if you do not seed," he said. "That could eventually lead to limited supplies and increased food cost in grocery stores."

Campbell emphasized the public needs to be aware of that tight timeframe farmers are under.

"This equipment will be moving on public roads. It is large and it doesn’t stop quickly. Be aware of your surroundings when you’re in rural Manitoba."

After a slow start, Krahn said now is crunch time for farmers.

"The pressure is on."

» jfrey-sam@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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