Manitoba farmers hoping for more precipitation as spring seeding looms

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Manitoba’s fields are starting to shed their white coat of snow, and with a few more unseasonably warm days, it won’t be long before the province’s farmers are back in action.

Some already are out there, keeping an eye on the conditions — but not everyone is liking what they’re seeing.

“It’s early, but it’s never too early (to be concerned),” says Stonewall, Man.-area farmer Ian Smith.

The province’s Hydrologic Forecast Centre says overall, moisture levels in the soil are lower than usual — thanks to low snowfall totals over the winter, coupled with a dry finish to the fall.

Read more: Manitoba releases first flood forecast, risk of major event low

That’s good news if one is looking at the flood outlook for the spring — but the province’s farmers will be stuck looking up at the sky, hoping for some form of precipitation.

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“Whether that’s snow or rain, it’ll certainly make a difference,” Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen explains. “In terms of crop and forage and production, it’s all about when it comes.”

According to Environment Canada meteorologist Dave Carlson, that could be sooner rather than later.

“Tuesday is a really big question, actually,” he tells 680 CJOB.

“We’ve got a pretty big system coming in from Montana and North Dakota, but whether or not we’re going to get snow or rain in the Red River Valley is tough (to guess).”

“It could be periods of rain, or it could be mainly cloudy and plus 10,” Carlson says.

It’s the early-season uncertainty many Manitoba farmers are used to, but Smith says the weather has delivered in crunch time over the last two years.

Read more: Manitoba grain farmers enjoying recent surge in prices

“Last year I only got around six inches of rain, but they were timely,” he explains. “I had a good crop.”

The agriculture minister says Smith’s sentiment is one shared across the province so far.

“Right now, it’s looking like there will be little runoff if any.”

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Pedersen explains while most people associate dry conditions with poor crop production, the rain or snow matters just as much to livestock producers.

“Wells and dugouts are very dry right now, and going into (the spring) forage ground needs some moisture to get started,” Pedersen explains.

Smith says hay was hard to come by in 2020, and some producers are already starting behind the eight ball with depleted supplies.

“I just squeaked by (last year),” he says. “It’s the dugouts that are my real concern. Don’t be surprised if lots of people have to get wells drilled in their pastures.”

Read more: Manitoba beef producers hoping for change in assistance ahead of 2021 season

Pedersen says the issue touches more people than just farmers.

“Irrigators depend on water to fill up their reservoirs, and communities across southern Manitoba — even their potable water supply is affected by this.”

Pedersen encourages producers to take “a second look” at their coverage ahead of the season — whether it’s forage or crop insurance. But he adds there’s lots of time to turn the current outlook around.

“As many farmers will tell you, they’ve never lost a crop in March yet.”

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