As the harvesting season gets underway, cereal grains and oil seed producers can already see the writing on the wall.
The lack of precipitation — until it was likely too late — and excessive heat throughout the summer meant that for many farmers in Manitoba and across the Prairies, this year’s is going to be something other than a bumper crop.
As if to confirm their fears, Statistics Canada released its "Production of principal field crops" report for July 2021 on Monday which suggests this year’s crop will be significantly smaller than recent years with canola yields, for instance, pushing production down to levels not seen since 2012.
With rainfall from April to the end of July down as much as 150 millimetres compared to average rainfall in some parts of the province, and temperatures as much as three degrees higher than average in some parts in July, Stats Canada’s July report forecasts wheat production will be down close to 35 per cent countrywide and canola down close to 25 per cent.
Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said, "Sometimes crops can cope with heat if you have adequate moisture, but the combination (of excessive heat and lack of precipitation) is not a good combination for a good crop."
The Statistics Canada report said lack of rain and higher-than-average temperatures throughout the growing season exacerbated soil moisture conditions which were already low at the start of the year.
The national statistics agency produces its yield models using satellite imagery and has done so with success modelling preliminary crop yields and production since 2016.
The report only examines the data from July. August weather included many very hot days but also a significant amount of rainfall.
But for most cereals and oilseeds it was likely too little too late.
"Most of the crops have determined what their yield potential is," said Campbell who operates a 2,300-acre farm near Minto, Man. "Some later season crops like soybeans, sunflower and corn have a chance of taking advantage of the recent precipitation."
StatCan’s estimates based on the July modelling include a 34.8 per cent decrease in wheat production down to 22.9 million tonnes this year compared to last year; a 24.3 per cent cent decline in canola to 14.7 million tonnes and declines across the board in everything except feed corn and winter wheat (which is mostly grown in Ontario).
In Manitoba, the report projects wheat production will be down 24.1 per cent and canola production to be down 14.4 per cent.
Janelle Whitley, the manager of policy development at the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said the StatCan projections are in line with what they have been hearing from farmers.
"(This year) has been an extremely challenging year for Manitoba and western Canadian farmers," she said. "Right from the spring when farmers struggled to get their crop in the ground through the unrelenting hot, dry weather conditions in July. It has really had the effect of lowering yields."
July is a key month for the canola crop, the largest Canadian crop which brought in $10.2 billion in farm cash receipts in 2020. Although there has been rain over the past couple of weeks for canola growers it will likely only improve ground moisture for future crops.
"July is really the month that impacts yield," Whitley said. "We have heard lots of stories about expectations of lower yields."
That being said there is also great variability from one field to the next.
"There will be areas that will see significantly less rain than others," said Campbell. "But some might happen to get a timely localized rain shower and will not be as impacted as much as others."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.