Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Huge swaths of farmland too soggy to plant

As many as 1 million acres likely to remain unseeded

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A fox wanders through the stubble of a Brandon-area farm. Up to 30,000 acres of farmland in the upper Assiniboine Valley may go unplanted.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

A fox wanders through the stubble of a Brandon-area farm. Up to 30,000 acres of farmland in the upper Assiniboine Valley may go unplanted.

As many as one million acres of cropland -- about 10 per cent of the in Manitoba -- may go unplanted this year due to cool, wet weather and overland flooding.

As of Monday, only 85 per cent of the provincial crop acreage had been seeded, the provincial Agriculture Department reported. Normally, spring planting is done by now.

Most of the areas left unseeded are in the western grain-growing areas of the province. Seeding is pretty much complete in central and eastern grain-growing regions as well as the Interlake.

Time is running out, though, for those who still have fields to plant. The crop-insurance deadline for planting canola is Sunday; for wheat and most other popular crops, the insurance deadline is Friday.

Meanwhile, rain is forecast for much of the province this weekend, threatening to shut down planting operations once again.

"We have nothing seeded this year," said Debbie McMechan, who farms 3,000 acres in the RM of Edward in the southwest corner of the province. Half of her land is pasture and half is usually planted to annual crops.

Many farmers in her region are in the same boat, she said. Some estimates say only 10 to 15 per cent of the land is seeded in the municipalities of Edward, Albert and Arthur in southwestern Manitoba. There are also pockets of unseeded land near Souris and Virden.

The Infrastructure and Transportation Department, which regulates the Shellmouth reservoir, estimates 25,000 to 30,000 acres of upper Assiniboine Valley land will not be planted this year due to flooding. Excessive rainfall is being blamed for the failure to plant fields in the Swan River and Dauphin areas as well.

Bruce Burnett, weather and crops specialist with CWB (formerly the Canadian Wheat Board), estimated anywhere between 700,000 and one million acres in Manitoba may go unplanted. There are between nine million and 10 million acres of land devoted to annual crops in the province.

"It's going to be a significant number, we know that," Burnett said, "because there are too many areas that are too wet in the western part of the province that will not be dry enough to plant on time."

Saskatchewan could also see a million acres go unseeded this spring, although it has a vaster crop-production area, he said.

Well-above-average rainfall has been responsible for planting delays in some areas of the province, while excessive drainage in Saskatchewan is being blamed in large part for the flooding in the southwest corner.

Dwight Eisner, who farms 1,000 acres at Swan River, said it seems every time his fields are dry enough to plant, another 10 to 25 mm of rain falls. He was going to try to seed Friday afternoon, but he said once the forecast rain arrives this weekend he will pack it in -- leaving 150 acres unplanted.

"It's been a difficult spring," he said.

Further south, excessive rain has also been an issue, but many farmers are blaming drainage work by Saskatchewan growers for their water woes.

McMechan, an RM of Edward councillor, said some farmers in her area have land they've been unable to seed for three successive years.

"Although it may not be well-documented at this point, it's certainly something that we're all living with on a day-to-day basis," she said of the drainage issue.

She also expressed frustration that the Province of Manitoba has not done more to take up the cause with the Saskatchewan government. Her municipality recently declared a state of emergency after 65 kilometres of road were flooded.

Conservative MLA Blaine Pedersen, who toured the region last weekend with several of his colleagues, said people are upset.

"The roads are washed out. There are huge washouts across cultivated land, pastures flooded, water everywhere," he said.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said this week Manitoba has brought up the drainage issue with the Saskatchewan government. Saskatchewan has indicated it will tighten up its regulations and boost enforcement against illegal drainage, he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2014 A7

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