Seeding heats up as temperatures rise

Slow start to season for farmers, but not as delayed as last spring


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You could still see snowbanks in the treelines as Manitoba farmers headed for the fields this week, anxious to pick up the pace after yet another cooler-than-normal spring.

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You could still see snowbanks in the treelines as Manitoba farmers headed for the fields this week, anxious to pick up the pace after yet another cooler-than-normal spring.

Although seeding progress is well behind what’s considered optimal, it’s not nearly as delayed as it was last year after a series of spring snowstorms and rain bogged down field operations until late May and into early June.

“If you look at the five-year average, we should be at 20 per cent by now,” provincial agricultural representative Lionel Kaskiw told this week’s CropTalk webinar.

So far this year, seeding progress province-wide could be measured in the low single digits. But that’s changing rapidly as warm, dry weather starts heating things up.

The Prairie growing season is short by global standards. Here in Manitoba, it ranges from about 75 frost-free days in higher areas around the Riding Mountains to 125 to 135 days in the so-called “banana belt” near the Canada-U.S. border. Most of the field crops we grow here need 90 to 120 days to mature.

Our long days and hot summer nights help make up for what we don’t have in time by increasing the “growing-degree days,” which is an average of the daily maximum and minimum temperatures.

Plus, plant breeders have spent the past hundred years or so developing varieties that contain the mix of traits they need to sprint from emergence to maturity while running the gauntlet of moisture, weed, insect and disease pressures.

However, the spring seeding window is already tight and seasonal climatic variations make it even tighter.

In general, farmers want to plant annual crops as early as possible.

Early-seeded crops have longer to reach their full yield potential, they do a better job of competing against weeds, they can better withstand insect or disease pressures, they have flowered or produced seed heads ahead of peak summer heat, and they can often be harvested by late summer when weather conditions tend to be drier.

Once that seeding date slides into June, yield potential on crops such as field peas can drop as much as 60 per cent, which likely means the farmer is better off planting something else. By late June, their crop choices are limited. Whatever they do plant may not be eligible for crop insurance.

That planting decision also seesaws between what the calendar is saying and what the soil temperatures are doing.

This week, farmers were being advised to refrain from seeding canola for a few more days.

“It’s still not a time period where it’s great conditions to be seeding canola just yet,” Kaskiw said, noting soil temperatures are only just passed 5 C on their way to the 10 C that extension advisers suggest. The same goes for soybeans and corn.

Stick those crops into cold soils and they might germinate, but they’ll be slower to grow, giving the edge to weedy competitors sucking up the available moisture and nutrients. It also makes them susceptible to pests such as the voracious flea beetle and seedling or root diseases. Sow into warm, moist soils, and crops spring into growth, often turning black fields into a green carpet within days.

Cereal crops such as wheat or barley fare just fine in soils above 4 C, which makes them first on seeding to-do list.

The third biggie when it comes to spring planting pressures is moisture. While heat units will determine how quickly the crop reaches maturity, the combination of moisture from the soil and sky will determine its yield potential.

Much of the Prairie region is abnormally dry this spring, with pockets of moderate to severe drought that can make germination patchy. So far, it looks as if Manitoba farmers have enough soil moisture to get their crops started — but that won’t last long in the warmth and those late May wind events we’ve been having.

So, the next time you see a big piece of farm equipment rolling down the road in front of you, have a little patience. They may not be moving at highway speeds, but they are going as fast as they can.

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at

Laura Rance

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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