We saw some really low durum yields in 2017 because of dry growing conditions. May 2018 be worse?
According to Ag Canada’s most recent weather maps, the large majority of Western Canada is rated as abnormally dry.
There’s also a significant amount farmland south of the #1, Trans-Canada Highway that would be considered in severe or extreme drought. If you’re reading this, you’re well aware that this is where a lot of Canada’s durum crop is grown.
The reason for the dryness is that there hasn’t been a lot of improvement since the fall harvest season ended. More specifically, the Canadian Prairies have experienced below-average precipitation since then.
Without snow cover, extremely cold temperatures and howling winds will “further deplete soil moisture reserves”.
And yes, a lot can change in the next 2-3 months, but we’ll need a few more good dumps and some healthy rains in the spring months for soil moisture levels to be in ideal setting come seeding time.
That word, “ideal” though is the key thing. We all know the saying, “plant into dust, and bins will bust”. However, Agriculture Canada admits that they are far from confident in their current weather models, and so at this point, dryness is likely to persis.
And such, it’s why we continue to think of better durum wheat prices down the road.
Dryness threat not getting any better
Most prairie grain growers could be looking at a dry and early seeding season in 2018 unless conditions change dramatically over the next two to three months.
Trevor Hadwen, an agro-climate expert with Agriculture Canada, says conditions across much of the West remain unusually dry.
Agriculture Canada just released the latest version of its Canadian Drought Monitor map, which shows conditions as of Dec. 31 ranging from “abnormally dry” to “extreme drought” across a large portion of Western Canada’s most productive farmland.
“Some areas have improved since freeze up in terms of snow accumulation and moisture in the soil,” Hadwen said.
“But for the majority of the prairie region, conditions have not improved since the fall.”
With a few exceptions, much of Western Canada went into the winter with low soil moisture reserves.
Growers in parts of northern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan were the most notable exception.
Since freeze up, almost the entire prairie grain belt has received below average amounts of precipitation.
Agriculture Canada precipitation maps show the vast majority of farmland in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba has received roughly half of the precipitation that’s normally expected in November and December.
Ken Panchuk, provincial soil specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said Saskatchewan farmers who received a heavy snowfall in October are in better shape than growers elsewhere.
Generally speaking, farms located north of the Yellowhead Highway in Saskatchewan and Alberta have better soil moisture conditions that those south of the highway.
Some producers in west-central Saskatchewan have also seen some soil moisture recharge over the past two months, but additional moisture is on the wish list of most growers in central and southern Saskatchewan.
“Southern areas of the province, the brown soil zone, was dry in late October and has limited snow cover,” Panchuk said.
”Producers generally would like to see some snow cover to protect the soil from further loss of moisture by sublimation (evaporation).”
Panchuk said most areas of Saskatchewan have some amount of snow cover, but depth is variable.
“In the brown soil zone, it’s pretty thin,” he said.
“You don’t have to go too far south of Saskatoon … to see areas where the snow is not covering the stubble yet.”
Hadwen said lack of significant snow cover and extremely cold temperatures during much of December have compounded drought conditions in some areas.
Without an insulating layer of snow on cropland, extreme cold can freeze dry the soil and further deplete soil moisture reserves.
“In general, we’re going into the New Year with very low accumulations throughout the prairie region and very low water content in the snow that is around,” Hadwen said.
“That’s a little bit of a concern, given that we’ve just come off a fairly significant drought event (in many areas).”
Hadwen said a lot can change in the next two to three months, before growers begin planting their 2018 crops.
Snow that’s received in November and December normally accounts for a relatively small portion of total annual precipitation.
“Probably the most important piece here is what’s still to come,” he said.
“We’ve got spring rain and spring snow that are the most important (factors) for soil recharge still yet to come.”
Western Canada is currently experiencing the effects of a light La Nina phase, which is trending toward neutral.
Those conditions typically make it difficult to accurately forecast precipitation over the long term.
“There’s not a lot of confidence in our forecasts right now in terms of how things will turn out … over the next three months,” Hadwen said.
“They could change quickly or they could stay relatively the same. There’s just no confidence, no real strong indicators, showing us how things will react so it’s kind of up in the air right now.”