Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Soggy spring more than just a drop in the bucket

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It will be weeks before the official unseeded-acreage count is in, but it's already known there are hundreds of thousands or acres that couldn't be planted this year. So what now?

The official deadline to get a crop seeded and still be eligible for crop insurance coverage passed yesterday and farmers have until Monday to file an application to receive $50 per acre on land they couldn't to seed. That's so crop insurance officials can validate their claim it was too wet to plant.

That payment is less than half what the farmer might have invested in planting a crop this year. Crop-production budgets put the cost of the seed and fertilizer at about $90 per acre for wheat and $140 for canola. Land and equipment costs are over and above that. So, that crop-insurance payment is spent before the farmer gets the cheque.

Their revenue this year --the funds they'll need to make their payments and live --is going to depend on selling what's left of last year's crop (stuck in their bins because of last winter's grain transportation problems), off-farm work and whether they can generate some additional revenue from the land that is still under water.

They must also decide what they need to do to keep weeds -- that are almost certainly coming -- from going to seed and haunting them for years to come, and getting their land dried out in time for next year's crop.

Some think leaving it unseeded, exposed to the sun would do the job, but the summer fallow was once widely practised on the Prairies as a moisture-conservation strategy. The best way to dry out land -- besides digging ditches --is to have something growing on it that sucks up lots of moisture.

One option is to let the weeds grow and take them out with either herbicides or tillage before they go to seed. That's risky because with the weather these days, farmers can't count on getting onto their fields at the right stage.

Some provincial extension officials have suggested farmers consider planting greenfeed -- an annual crop such as wheat, oats or barley, sown early summer with the goal of harvesting it as forage or silage. Farmers can get crop insurance if they can get it planted before July 15.

It's a no-brainer if the farmer already has livestock, even if they don't think the chances of finding a local market are good. The long, cold winter and slow pasture growth during spring cut into livestock producers' forage reserves.

Even if they don't generate revenue, greenfeed has benefits because it consumes moisture and stores nutrients in the plant rather than allowing them to get washed away.

The first thing most farmers will want to do is get out there with machinery to better drain their fields. The problem is, much of this year's excess moisture isn't from poor drainage -- it's due to bad drainage.

The affected regions have received abnormally high rainfall so far this year, but hydrological studies are showing farmers in southwestern Manitoba are on the receiving end of illegal drainage in southeastern Saskatchewan. It's also making their roads impassable. More years of this and more people will leave, making entire communities unsustainable.

The provincial government has promised to look for ways of addressing that problem, but at the same time its newly released surface-water-strategy serves notice the solution to their problems won't involve dumping water onto someone else.

So if you hear some "soggy bottom blues" coming from the farmers out there -- they're entitled.


Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 B10

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