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‘A catch-22’: Sask. farmer weighs in on brown winter conditions

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WATCH: Most of Saskatchewan's snow is still to come this winter, but the current dry conditions could affect farmers down the road. – Jan 6, 2020

In Nick Cornea’s world, 2019 “ended with a bang,” but not in a good way.

Heavy fall rains and an early snowfall crippled the farmer’s canola crops near Briercrest, Sask. The harsh conditions meant he had to leave close to 200 acres of canola in the fields, making this coming spring a little harder for the family business.

“We’re probably going to be combining as well as trying to seed at the same time, trying to get spraying done as well, too,” Cornea said. “We might need more hired men. It’s just a lot more work in a short amount of time to get it done in.”

READ MORE: ‘Harvest from hell’: Alberta farmers demanding action from government

Standing in his field of snow-blown canola, Cornea said his only saving grace is if Saskatchewan’s relatively brown winter continues, which would allow him to get in the fields sooner.

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But that could come with a price.

“It’s a catch-22. We need the snow to give us more moisture for next year, if we have another dry summer like we had this year,” Cornea said.

Cornea said farmers have to take what they can get when it comes to the weather. But if more snow has to come this winter, it’s better now than later.

READ MORE: Snowy conditions add challenges to an already difficult harvest season

“It would be nice, right now, to have some more snowfall to insulate the ground a little bit better, so the frost doesn’t drive as far down,” Cornea said. ” We can hopefully thaw out a little bit sooner and get into the fields a little bit sooner.”

According to Environment Canada, the entire province had a relatively mild and very dry December.

Yorkton recorded its driest December to date, getting 2.3 millimetres of precipitation. Normally, the area gets 21 mm in December.

Both Regina and Moose Jaw had less than three millimetres. Saskatoon saw 4.1 millimetres of precipitation.

Precipitation totals for December 2019, according to Environment Canada. Global News

In 2019, Estevan, Moose Jaw and Swift Current experienced one of the wettest years on record, according to the fall conditions report done by the Water Security Agency (WSA).

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The WSA said the current dry winter conditions could offset the wet fall, putting the spring runoff levels around normal in certain areas.

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“Overall, when you see above-normal spring runoff conditions going into winter freeze-up, then if we’re looking at … below-normal amounts of snowfall that probably lowers our forecast,” said Patrick Boyle, WSA spokesperson. “In this case, some areas that were expecting above-normal that might bring it to that normal or below-normal category.”

“There’s kind of that sweet spot where we try to hit on an average year where there is enough to recharge the soil and it will help with a productive crop, but not too much where it’s going to cause issues on the landscape,” Boyle said.

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The WSA surveys three things when forecasting spring runoff: fall conditions, how much snow falls in the winter and how it melts.

Boyle said the agency will start its snow survey in February to get another look at the spring runoff forecast.

He said most of Saskatchewan’s snow is still to come, which is the biggest “factor in the spring runoff picture.”

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