Farmers focus on catching up with harvest
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Manitoba farmers have a lot of catching up to do as harvest across the province finally swung into high gear this week.
As of this week, farmers across the province had only three per cent of this year’s crop harvested, well behind the five-year-average of 39 per cent. A stormy, wet spring meant spring seeding was three to four weeks later than usual.
Although farmers plant crops and varieties that are specifically bred to reach maturity within this region’s shorter growing season, these plants won’t be rushed through their biological cycle.
Even without a frost, quality suffers the longer harvest extends into autumn. As the days get shorter and daytime highs start to cool, everything takes longer to dry, even with the help of desiccants to speed things along.
Rain now mostly just slows things down even more, although a few crops such as soybeans, corn and sunflowers could benefit from the additional moisture this late in the season.
How things go over the next few weeks will not only close the book on this year’s crop, but could set the tone for next year’s as well.
There’s lots of buzz these days around the U.S. government’s efforts to help American farmers capitalize on global grain supply disruptions created by Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Biden administration came out with a plan last spring designed to boost U.S. production of key commodities such as wheat both in the short and long term. A key pillar of the program was additional crop insurance subsidies to mitigate the risk associated with a practice known as “double-cropping,” where farmers sow a winter cereal in the fall for harvest in the spring in time to plant and harvest a crop of soybeans.
If all goes well, the farmer harvests two crops in the same season, which increases their returns per acre and balances out some of their production costs.
But that’s a big “if” even in the American Midwest where growing seasons are longer and heat units higher, which is why the government stepped in with insurance incentives to share the risk.
It potentially adds significant volumes of wheat to global markets, which would drive down prices, especially since Ukrainian grain exports have started to flow once again.
The Prairie growing season is too short to allow farmers to harvest two crops in a year — but they do have the option of planting two in the same season.
The way it works here is that a winter cereal is planted into the stubble of the crop that’s just been harvested, usually canola, because the standing stubble traps snow for winter insulation and spring moisture.
These wheat and rye varieties start growing in the fall and then enter a dormant phase over winter. They are the first to start growing in the spring which means they can more easily outcompete the first flush of weeds.
They also have a chance to beat the disease cycles commonly affecting spring-sown cereals. These crops are ready for harvest weeks before the other crops mature, which spreads the workload over a wider window.
But based on research that shows planting winter wheat too late in the fall doesn’t give it enough time to get established before the cold weather sets in, farmers are required to get it seeded by late September to qualify for crop insurance.
Much of the province’s canola crop is weeks away from being ripe enough to harvest, which could easily push winter wheat out as a fall seeding option.
The acres sown to winter wheat last year were sharply lower, part of a downward trend over the past decade. Despite the advantages of adding diversity to a crop rotation, which throws pests off their game, about two-thirds of Prairie farmers only grow canola and wheat.
Post-harvest is also critical for farmers to get a head start on the upcoming growing season by pre-applying fertilizer or tackling troublesome weed populations before they have an opportunity to go to seed.
But first things first. Right now, the focus is on what looks to be a stretch of sunny, dry conditions allowing them to collect what the pundits are predicting will be a sizable crop.
Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. Reach her at email@example.com
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.