Producers’ push to plant has been a ‘tough slog’

·4 min read

In a year when snowfalls, rainstorms and gale-force winds have wreaked havoc on farms across the province, many producers are now more than 30 per cent behind in seeding, according to a Manitoba Crop Report.

The weekly provincial summary shows Manitoba has completed 65 per cent of its seeding, as of Tuesday. The five-year average at this time is 96 per cent, leaving growers about a month behind schedule.

Soil remains saturated in many areas, forcing farmers to avoid seeding chunks of land, shift acreage plans and adjust their order of operations.

What’s more is farm operators are now pushing themselves to work extended hours, sometimes overnight and for 24-hour periods, in an effort to seed while the weather holds up.

“It’s certainly been a tough slog,” said Bill Nicholson, grain farmer and secretary for Manitoba Canola Growers.

“We couldn’t do anything for a long time. Then when we could go, we pushed as hard as we could.”

Nicholson is one of the fortunate farmers in the province. Although he has avoided seeding about 15 per cent of his 6,000 acres in Shoal Lake, he’s “just about finished” planting crops.

He has been working 18-hour days over the past few weeks, sometimes until 3 a.m., in an effort to beat out any unfavourable weather and the ever-important crop insurance deadline.

“We’ve compressed the whole season into less than three weeks,” he said on a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

“Myself and our crew will be quite happy to try working on our sleep deficit when it’s all over.”

The southwest corner of the province saw less rain over the past seven days than it has in weeks, with several municipalities experiencing no precipitation. That said, five areas were hit with more than 20 millimetres of rain, according to a provincial crop weather report.

Nicholson’s land has been grazed compared to producers in other parts of the province.

“We’ve had more than enough [rain], but not as much as other areas,” he said, adding, “it’s still wet and muddy in a lot of places, but not as disastrous as some areas.”

The drier weather has allowed him to get going on his seeding sooner and quicker than other farmers.

While he would ideally be done by the end of May, he estimates he’s just 10 days behind schedule.

Nicholson abandoned planting soybeans out of fear he wouldn’t make its rapidly approaching crop insurance deadline. He’s focusing on wheat, canola, barley and peas this season instead.

His biggest hope is for crops to grow quickly and have an extended summer to make sure his harvest can mature without worrying about frost, he said.

Ironically, producers will welcome rain soon enough.

Once seeds are planted, moisture in the ground dissipates quickly, as seeds germinate and absorb much of the saturation.

As farmers are experiencing, however, it’s a vicious circle. Many fields remain muddy because with no plant growth, there’s nothing in the soil to use the moisture. But with a muddy field, it’s difficult to seed.

“Once there’s a big crop, then we could use some rain without it causing problems,” Nicholson said. “That’s been the situation the past couple of years — during peak growing season, that’s when we’ve been most short of rain.”

In the most disastrous situations across the province, Nicholson said some farmers could look at a spray plane as another method to get seeds in the ground.

The high-risk approach involves sprinkling seeds and fertilizer from an aerial device in hopes they fall in soil that has enough moisture at the surface for the seed to germinate.

It’s a less-than-ideal plan that is a last-resort in many cases.

“It’s more costly and less effective, but it’s a choice of whether you get anything planted or not, if it’s too wet to get any equipment on the ground.”

Farmers struggling with their mental health or well-being are encouraged to call the Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services at 1-866-367-3276 or the Manitoba Farmer Wellness Program at 204-232-0574.

» jfrey-sam@brandonsun.com

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

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