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Yields, quality vary greatly across Canadian provinces

This wasn't the best production year that Jim Wickett has had. Dry conditions early worked against his crops, as did wet weather at harvest that cut into the quality of his durum and barley.

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This wasn’t the best production year that Jim Wickett has had. Dry conditions early worked against his crops, as did wet weather at harvest that cut into the quality of his durum and barley.

Overall, however, “I’m quite happy with the result,” says the Rosetown, Saskatchewan, farmer.  “We started out so dry, and we were really concerned.” He raises a number of crops, including wheat, barley, lentils, canola and soybeans.

What’s true on Wickett’s farm, about 70 miles southwest of Saskatoon, is true on much of the Canadian prairies.

  Weather concerns  

A number of weather issues - a dry spring, frosts in May and June, extreme summer winds and harvest rains, among others - combined to hold down yields and quality. Even so, yields ended up better than what many farmers expected during the dry planting season, farmers and ag officials say.

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In Manitoba, for instance, yields generally were at or slightly above the 10-year averages, according to Manitoba Food, Agriculture and Rural Development.

With harvest wrapping up in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, two other things are clear, as well, agriculturalists say:

  •  Crops harvested later in the season generally had poorer quality than those harvested early.
  •  Yields and quality fluctuated widely, even within the same province.

“There’s lot of variation (in yields), depending on which spot in Manitoba you were in,” says Brent VanKoughnet, executive director of the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association in Carman. “Generally, though, I think we were in the average-yield world.”
Some communities also received far more rain than others, leading to big variations in quality, too, he says.

Several weeks of persistent rain at harvest led to sprout damage in swathed wheat and barley, says Harry Brook, crop specialist with the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Ag-Info Center in Stettler.

Canada traditionally is the world’s leading exporter of spring wheat, durum, canola and malting barley - all of which are prominent crops on the Northern Plains of the U.S. So what happens in Canada affects U.S. prices for those crops. Likewise, what happens in the U.S. affects Canadian prices.

Canada also is the world’s leading exporter of lentils, a small-market crop attracting more interest in North Dakota and Montana.

Wickett says red lentils were his best crop, by far, this year.

“It will be the one that pays the bills here,” he says. “It was almost two crops in one,” reflecting both exceptional yields and historically high prices.

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  Recharge  

Fraser Robertson, who farms with his family in northern Alberta near Fairview, in Peace River Country, says he had mostly average yields this fall. Dry conditions at planting worked against his crop, but dry harvest weather helped.

“They came off in pretty good shape,” he says of his crops.

All things considered, he’s relatively happy with his 2015 harvest.

His area, which has been fairly dry for the past decade, suffered through drought in 2014, he says.

But several recent rains have helped recharge soil moisture, “and now we’re back fairly close to average,” he says. “Because Fairview is so far north, its cooler fall temperatures reduce evaporative loss from fall rains.”

Though they hurt yields and quality, the harvest rains have helped rebuild soil moisture across much of Alberta, Brook says.

“That’s the good thing,” he says. “We’re doing OK on moisture now.”

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