Manitoba farmers anxiously eye floodwaters, wait to start seeding

Flood waters rise on the Morris River. Randall Paull/Global News

Coming off a year of extreme drought, it’s shaping up to be another tricky season for Manitoba farmers, this time with the opposite problem.

Seeding across southern Manitoba has been delayed by overland floodwaters, a problem across much of the Red River basin.

“We are in the process of changing our seeding plan for this coming year,” said Thorsten Stanze, who farms 6,000 acres near Morris, most of which is  underwater.

“We probably won’t seed beans, I think it will get too late. And we just ordered some barley seeds (in) the last couple of days for the late fields. The rest, we’ll basically have to see when the water recedes what we have to do.”

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Between lower-quality yields and having to plants crops that grow faster but may be less profitable, Stanze is expecting his income will take a 30 per cent hit this year.

Agriculture reporter Harry Siemens says it’s an issue many are facing right now, and the longer it takes for fields to dry off, the more difficult decisions will have to be made.

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“Input costs are three, four-hundred-dollars an acre. Potatoes (are) higher. When (farmers) start putting in the crop and wondering whether they’re going to be able to harvest, they will probably think twice or thee times before they really put that seed in the ground,” Siemens says, adding it will be even more challenging for those who are under contract.

“In southern Manitoba there’s lots of corn, a lot of soybeans, some edible beans, some peas and some other crops. They just will not be planted as much.”

Both Siemens and Stanze compared seeding issues to 1997, when they noted that although the flood was overall more disruptive, the crest actually happened in mid-April, so producers were more or less still able to get started on time.

“(In 1997) we didn’t have a too bad of a crop and we started seeding the beginning of June. So it wasn’t that bad,” Stanze says. “That is my biggest concern right now … we should have been about three-quarters done by now.”

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Stanze says the biggest issue he’s facing this year with a late harvest on the horizon is a potential labour shortage.

“We work with international students every year and they normally go back in the middle of September,” Stanze says.

“If everything goes normally, we have to expect that we won’t start harvesting before September, and then our guys are gone within two weeks. And I’m down two operators right now … I might have to rely on some older folks in the area, or maybe my son has to come back from university for ten days or something like that.”

In any case, Stanze notes, with a hint of cautious optimism, that the situation could still change.

“Mother Nature might show in the end that it was not as bad as I think.”

Click to play video: 'Flooding delaying seeding for some Manitoba farmers'
Flooding delaying seeding for some Manitoba farmers

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