Grain farmer Curtis McRae and his family dodged a bullet Tuesday night.
For a while in the early evening, it looked like their family farm near St. Andrews might be in the path of a severe thunderstorm that tore through parts of southeastern Manitoba, pounding areas like the Rural Municipality of Reynolds with hail, high winds and heavy rain.
"That storm scared the hell out of us," McRae said Wednesday, noting it would have severely damaged their ripe and nearly ripe cereal crops.
Luckily, it missed their farm. So on Wednesday, McRae and his brother were heading back into the fields to resume their harvesting, which only got underway Tuesday.
Due to an unusually long winter which delayed spring seeding, and an unseasonably cool summer which slowed crop growth, the McRae family and most other Manitoba grain farmers are two to three weeks behind with this year's harvest.
'We are a couple of weeks behind, but sometimes Mother Nature makes up for it'
"Last year on the first day of August we were combining," McRae said.
And that has some, including him and Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney, hoping for a lot more warm, sunny weather for much of the next four or five weeks. The last thing they need is any more severe storms or, heaven forbid, a killer frost.
If they get their wish, this could be another good year for many Manitoba grain farmers. In its latest principal field crops report released Wednesday, Statistics Canada said Manitoba farmers are expecting to harvest record amounts of soybeans and corn this fall. They also expect to harvest more spring wheat, canola and barley than in 2012, which was also a good year for grain production in Manitoba.
But as always, those predictions are contingent upon them getting good weather for the remainder of August and most of September. If they don't, all bets are off.
Chorney said later-maturing crops like soybeans and corn are especially vulnerable. With the delayed growing season, many of those crops won't be ready to harvest until early October.
"Most crops are shockingly late, those near the Saskatchewan border especially," he said, adding he's even heard reports of some canola crops that are still in the flowering stage. "And that's not typical at all."
' ... My own canola looks better than it's been for 10 years'
Chorney said soybeans make up about a third of his crops this year, which could be great because soybean prices have been holding up better than prices for a lot of other crops this year.
"And my own canola looks better than it's been for 10 years."
"But I don't want to see any frost before Oct. 1," the KAP president said. "It could be a real disaster if we get a bad frost before then."
A spokesman for the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association agreed an early frost, particularly a heavy one, would be big trouble for most soybean producers because with most crops, the pods are just starting to fill with beans.
"So if we get a frost in the next week, there will be nothing. Zero," Albert Turski said.
But Turski doesn't think that's going to happen, so he's not hitting the panic button.
"We are a couple of weeks behind, but sometimes Mother Nature makes up for it," he said.
McRae said his family planted mostly canola and wheat this year, with only a small amount of soybeans, corn and barley. Although grain prices are down from last year's heady highs, they're still at or slightly above average in many cases. So if they get another month of favourable weather, they should be in good shape.
Statistics Canada said a survey of 1,760 Manitoba farmers between July 24 and Aug. 5 showed local producers expect to harvest a record 928,000 tonnes of soybeans and 919,500 tonnes of corn for grain this year. That would easily top last year's record of 759,300 tonnes of soybeans and 815,400 tonnes of corn.
Nationally, it said Canadian farmers expect to harvest a record amount of canola and corn, as well as more wheat, barley and oats.
Heaping harvest anticipated this fall
Here is what Manitoba farmers are expecting to harvest this fall, with the percentage change from last year in brackets:
|Type of Crop||Harvested area (acres)||Yield (bushels/acre)||Production (tonnes)|
||1.0 million (28.1)||33.3 (-4.6)||928,000 (22.1)|
|Corn for grain
||106.5 (-3.8)||919,500 (12.8)|
|Canola||3.1 million (-13.4)||26.1 (27.2)
||2.3 million (10.7)|
|Spring wheat||2.8 million (19.6)
||N/A||3.3 million (13.4)|
|Sunflower seed||74,000 (-24.5)||1,955 lbs/acre (-25.1)||49,200 (-43.4)|
-- Source: Statistic Canada