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'We're all worried'

Too much rain threatens Manitoba farmers' crops

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Canola sets out its first bloom in a field near Oak Bluff Friday.

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Canola sets out its first bloom in a field near Oak Bluff Friday. Photo Store

If it doesn't rain, it pours for beleaguered Manitoba grain farmers.

First, an unusually long, cold winter and a cold, wet spring delayed the start of seeding for weeks and may have prevented up to one million acres of cropland from getting seeded at all.

It has also slowed the emergence and growth of many of the crops that did get planted and is causing some to turn yellow.

And now a large, low-pressure system is descending on the province this weekend that threatens to dump 40 to 50 millimetres of rain across much of southern Manitoba over the next four days. That could turn some already soggy fields into mini-lakes.

And finally, there are the weeds.

"Guys can't get out and spray, so the weeds are really taking over," Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney said in an interview Friday, as he attempted to spray one of his fields of soybeans. "It's awful. It's really bad."

He said all of that has many producers fretting big-time over what kind of crop they're going to get this year after enjoying a bumper harvest in 2013.

"It's the complete opposite of what it was last year for Manitoba," Chorney said.

"From Swan River to Steinbach, we're all worried."

The latest weekly crop report from Winnipeg-based Farm Link Marketing Solutions also talks about how too much rain is taking a toll on crops in other parts of the Prairies, as well.

"On balance, the (Prairie) crop has been set back. In some areas where excess moisture was not a problem previously, crops are standing in water," the report states.

But as grim as it looks in some areas, it's still way too early to declare the year a write-off, the report adds.

"There remains the potential for another big crop this year in aggregate in Western Canada. Hot weather in mid- to late July could go a long ways to improve field conditions and to advance crop development."

The provincial Agriculture Department reported earlier this week spring seeding is essentially done now in Manitoba, even though there are fields that never got seeded, especially in the waterlogged southwest corner of the province.

Statistics Canada reported Friday a survey of 24,800 Canadian farmers between May 28 and June 10 revealed Manitoba producers planted more soybeans, sunflower seeds and oats this year than in 2013, and less canola, wheat, barley and corn.

But canola still retained its title as the most popular crop in Manitoba, with 3.1 million acres seeded. Wheat was once again a close second, at 2.9 million acres, and farmers also set another soybean record with 1.3 million acres seeded.

Chorney said such things as the weather, crop prices and the high cost of fertilizer all played a role in determining what types of crops were planted this year.

He said farmers planted more soybeans because prices held up over the winter and soybeans don't need nitrogen fertilizer.

And with the high price of fertilizer this spring, that can translate into significant savings.

They also planted less wheat, because wheat prices were tanking last winter when seeding plans were being finalized, he said. And they likely sowed more oats because it has a shorter growing season and can be turned into greenfeed, or fodder for livestock, if the crop turns out poorly.

Chorney said he was feeling a little sorry for himself earlier this week because some of his fields are really wet. But then he remembered the farmers who got little or nothing seeded and are now looking at spending big bucks to kill all the weeds that have taken over their unseeded fields.

Nationally, Statistics Canada said Canadian farmers planted or intended to plant less wheat this year (down 7.4 per cent to 24.1 million acres), a little more canola (up 1.5 per cent to 20.3 million acres), a record 5.6 million acres of soybeans (up 23.5 per cent), 6.1 million acres of barley (down 14 per cent), three million acres of oats (down 3.8 per cent), 3.1 million acres of corn for grain (down 15.5 per cent), and four million acres of dry field peas (up 21 per cent).

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2014 B6

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