An aerial view of a canola field in mid-July. Crop maturity has been varied across Southern Saskatchewan—in some areas, the crop is ready to be harvested. In other, fields still look like this one.

After bumper harvest in 2013: Farmers say 2014 harvest will be ‘average at best’

September 1, 2014 9:04 am
Julia Dima

Farmers around the area say this year’s harvest isn’t looking anything like last year’s bumper crop.

Late spring seeding, damaging floods and wet conditions that have set back harvest by a few weeks will result in a lower quality yield, according to some local farmers.

Rainy weather over the past week means many farmers have been unable to get onto the field at all.

“If the weather would improve, harvest would go fairly quickly. But we are going to need a week for the ground to even dry enough so we can get out there. It’s not pretty out there—it’s a mess to say the least,” says Kevin Woods of Westwood Land and Cattle.

“We’re ready to try to start cutting canola, but don’t know how we’re going to get on the field—with this rain, we were stuck with the sprayer even prior to this 3 inch rain we just got,” says farmer Craig Roy. He says many parts of his crop never dried from the heavy rainfall at the end of June, and the ground is so saturated that there is standing water below the crops everywhere. “There is a lot of water in the fields that you won’t see until you’re in it and you’re stuck.”

According to Saskatchewan Agri-culture’s crop report, two per cent of the 2014 provincial crop is combined, while 12 per cent is swathed or ready to straight-cut. The five-year average (2009-2013) for this time of year is six per cent combined and 14 per cent swathed or ready to straight-cut. Harvest has progressed the most in the southwest, where seven per cent of the crop has been combined. At this time, average crop yields are being reported in most areas.

Provincially, 27 per cent of fall rye, 13 per cent of winter wheat, 12 per cent of field peas and eight per cent of lentils are combined. Twenty-two per cent of canola is swathed while 14 per cent of mustard is swathed or ready to straight-cut. Harvest operations were slowed down by last week’s rain.

Across the province, topsoil moisture on cropland is rated as 28 per cent surplus, 71 per cent adequate and one per cent short. Hay land and pasture topsoil moisture is rated as 22 per cent surplus, 75 per cent adequate and three per cent short.

Heavy rain, strong winds, flooding and hail caused the majority of reported crop damage this week. Grasshoppers, wheat midge and sclerotinia also caused some damage.

Kyran Foy is in the same situation as Craig Roy. About 25 per cent of his canola is swathed, but he is a week to two weeks behind normal in harvest because of the moisture.

“The crops look okay, but there are a lot of drowned out spots. I guess, you have to remain positive though,” he says.

Ron Dietrich says some of his crops are swathed, but hail damaged crops need some more recovery time. And they are running out of time.

“I think with the cereal grain crops in particular, the issue will be quality. There’s some ergot and fusarium, and with the high humidity and moisture, unless the weather turns around fairly soon, the cool damp summer and a cool damp fall could cause some grading problems,” Dietrich says. “We know we have uneven ripening, and soft spots on the fields—extended water patches. And when we are swathing, we are laying the crop down on wet ground, which is not the best for drying.”

Low temperatures last week created some concern about frost as well.

Like Dietrich, Woods has been seeing crops at all levels of maturity in the region, and frost could destroy some of the crops in need of more growing time because of the late seeding.

“A big frost in the next few weeks would be devastating, especially to the canola crops,” he says.

With a late seeding and moist spring, quantity is already an issue.

John Van Eaton says he was able to seed only 70 per cent of his crop, and lost around 15 per cent of it to the late June floods.

Now, with the moisture keeping farmers off the fields and a lack of dry days, quality is the next concern.

“This is already downgrading the quality of the cereals. We don’t know the impact yet, but it’s definitely not going to be a banner year,” Roy says. “Shelling it out by hand and just looking at it—it’s going to be average quality at best.”

Woods says time is of the essence in maintaining the grade of the crop now.

“We are faced with the issue of even getting the crop off in a number one grade. The downgrading of the crop is going to be the next issue. If we get a few more rains on the wheat crop, it will be downgraded . . . We just want to get harvested what we have in a good quality,” he says.

At the Parrish and Heimbecker Grain Terminal, only winter wheat samples have come in, but those samples are showing signs of fusarium from the moisture.

“The sheer amount of moisture has been an issue, and affects yield,” says Jason Kelly with P&H. “It has not been easy for farmers this year. I would say this year will be average probably at best.”

Kristjan Hebert farms near Fairlight and he feels optimistic about his crop.

“We’ll never know until we combine, but we’re reasonably happy with how things look considering what we went through this summer,” he says. Moisture-caused diseases are definitely a problem according to Hebert. “We sprayed the whole farm for disease, and anywhere there was some unintentional misses, you can see disease on the crop.”

However, Hebert says if he can get onto his crop soon, he thinks his yield and quality will be above average.

One thing all the farmers are in consensus about is that this harvest will pale in comparison to last year’s bumper crop year.

“Last year was a once in a lifetime crop. There was tremendous quantity and quality. This year it just hasn’t dried up, and that’s the difference. We had lots of moisture last year in the spring, and it dried up for harvest, now we have more continuous moisture,” says Ron Dietrich.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime crop—a perfect storm in terms of everything coming together,” Woods says. “Everyone knows it’s not going to be last year. The rain we’ve just had is putting the icing on the cake from where the year started—basically we’re finishing off where we started with the frustration of the weather. And we are running out of days—at this time last year, we had half of our wheat harvest done, and here we are this year, we haven’t even started. Now it’s about where will we go in the coming weeks—what will mother nature deal us going forward.”

Van Eaton says there have been good years and bad years, and this bad year is not devastating, even though it’s not welcomed.
“I would have rather had last year’s season, of course. I think anybody in agriculture has to look at it long term though. So we’re hoping we can get this year behind us and look forward to better years to come,” Van Eaton says.