Moisture Causing Farmers to Make Decisions

Robert Thomas

The heavy snows which caused grief on city streets are causing a likewise grief for area farmers.

Shannon Friesen, an agronomist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said that the heavy, wet snows have farmers reconsidering their seeding intentions for 2018.

“For the most part the heavy, wet snows the last couple of weeks did us some good,” Friesen said, adding that; "overall, there is a lot more optimism than six weeks ago; even in January and February with no snow fall. The snow seemed to fall particularly in areas where we really needed it. In the southwest and towards the US border they needed the moisture. “

In the Moose Jaw region, heavier snow cover is south and to the west of the city. The Lightest snow cover is north of the city in the Aylesbury and Chamberlain areas.

Although not solving the overall soil moisture conditions, the snows have helped ease some concerns with the weather in the next few weeks, having a major effect upon what farmers ultimately decide to seed, she said.

“Producers are waiting on moisture to see what their seeding intentions would be,” she said, adding “hopefully it (snow cover) melts into the surface if it warms up quickly it could run of. It’s a wait-and-see kind of thing,” Friesen stated.

The heavy, wet snow did not solve moisture problems; on the contrary, it improved them.

“We are going to need to have many rain showers over the next couple of months,” she said.

One of the biggest news stories lately for area producers were that tariffs India has applied to lentils and peas (pulse crops). But that is not the entire story behind the price drop for lentils.

“The Moose Jaw area is known for peas, lentils and chick peas,” she said.

Two years ago, the price of lentils was fifty, sixty and seventy cents a pound and producers responded with a large lentil crop dropping prices.

“In 2016, everybody grew lentils and they grew too much (lentils),” she said.“If they are not able to cover costs enough they are not likely to be planting those (pulse crops) as much.”

Friesen did state, however, that lentils were “one of the cheapest crops to grow," with lower seed, fuel, chemical and fertilizer costs. Producers are likely to drop acres planted but to what extent is still unknown. This price drop was further aggravated by India imposing said tariffs. To protect local farmers following a large local crop and falling prices India applied tariffs of 50 percent on field peas, 40 percent on lentils, 60 percent on chick peas and 20 percent on wheat. The tariffs on field peas and lentils directly hurt local farmers while the chick pea tariff duty hit Australian farmers. The wheat tariff was aimed at Black Sea production, most notably in Ukraine, who were able to market large amounts of wheat to Indonesia, according to Reuters.

Despite the tariffs in India, she said producers will not stop growing pulses, rather, they will just reduce acreage seeded. One reason for this is crop rotation. Crop rotation is the scheduled growing of different crops to help reduce disease, insects and weeds common to fields down to the same crop, year after year. The prime crop rotation is cereal crop (wheat, durum, barley, oats), then an oilseed crop like canola followed by a pulse crop.

 Author in a wheat field in Odessa, Ukraine. This field was owned by his family until the Russian Revolution

Author in a wheat field in Odessa, Ukraine. This field was owned by his family until the Russian Revolution

Friesen does not foresee a reduction in acres seeded to wheat in 2018.

“Wheat and durum are a very important crop for us and producers will likely be growing the same amount as last year, she said, adding “Cereal crops are a very important part of the rotation”

Wheat’s moisture needs plus root system, which goes deep to seek out soil moisture that makes it less susceptible to drier conditions. The potential of moisture has producers considering seeding canola. The oil seed crop does well in moister conditions.

Soya beans are a relative newcomer to Saskatchewan with 750,000 acres seeded province-wide. The Moose Jaw region is not ideal for present varieties of soya beans.

“We are not in the most ideal area as the southeast and Outlook. There are not enough heat units.”

A heat unit is defined as growing days within a temperature range from the lowest to the highest temperatures in which the plant will develop.

Soya beans require larger amounts of water to grow and have “lots of issues with drought as well,” she said, adding "they tend to do well with wetter conditions.”

Increasing chick pea acreage is possible.

“We may see some acres increase it all depends on the market and the price.”

Chick peas are grown more to the south towards Assiniboia.

“All this moisture has to continue,” she said about chick peas.

Most Canadian chick peas are marketed to US markets.

Asked about winter kill in pastures and hay fields, she said “there is a potential for that”

There were no Autumn rains and not a lot of soil moisture, which has the potential to see grasses have winter kill.

“It will be a long time to see how extensive the damage could be. All it takes is lots of rain for it to quickly bounce back. Hopefully the snow does benefit them and we sure hope it sinks into the soil.”

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