WESTERN PRODUCER — It’s little comfort that less than 10 percent of the Prairies is in drought this year when you’re in that zone.
For some Saskatchewan farmers conditions are even drier than last year when 94 percent of Western Canada was in drought in July. August data isn’t yet available.
A look at this year’s July drought map shows a region in southwest Saskatchewan, between Regina, Saskatoon and Maple Creek, to be in moderate to severe drought.
“I farm in the area northwest of Outlook and except for a six- to eight-mile strip along Highway 15 through Outlook we are drier than last year,” said Conquest farmer Lloyd Tyler in an email. “Moisture totals are between 75 and 100 millimetres since April 1, with only one rainfall that did much good.
That was 24 mm on July 16 and since then he said there has been no rain and lots of heat.
Grasshoppers are devouring anything green, hay was poor and pastures are done, he said.
The latest Saskatchewan crop report noted that topsoil moisture on crop land is 43 percent short to very short across the province, and 45 percent short to very short on hay and pastureland.
“Many producers have voiced concern over how badly they will need rain once harvest is completed to recharge the soil moisture of their respective regions,” the report said.
Water supplies for livestock are an issue throughout the drought area.
Tyler said dugouts in his area are low to empty and he is concerned about the future of the livestock sector.
Southwest of Conquest, Jim Hale said he and his neighbours are more familiar with drought. His grain farm is between Leader and Cabri by the Great Sand Hills.
He said some in the area may have a false sense of security after the wetter period between 2010 and 2020, but those who have been around for a while expect it to be dry more often than not.
“It was a really weird year because for a drought there was lots of guys that sprayed fungicide on lentils, so it wasn’t consistently dry,” he said of the 2022 growing season.
Wet and humid conditions in June and July after a dry spring led to fungicide applications. Insecticide for grasshoppers was going on at the same time.
“But then the tap turned off and based on the anecdotes from the guys combining lentils I don’t think (fungicide) paid,” Hale said.
“We had three weeks where things were looking really good and it looked like guys that had maybe gone with a regular fertility package really looked like they were in the driver’s seat and then the tap turned off here and I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case anymore.”
The area is about two-and-a-half years into this drought. Snow cover is a big factor because it often doesn’t stick around due to chinooks. After a hot, dry 2020 there was snow the following winter. But hot days and nights, and no rain, used up any reserve.
This growing season has been hot but the nights have been cooler and Hale said the crops appear to be OK. He isn’t hearing that durum test weights have been affected or kernels shriveled.
“It’s just the yields are down,” he said.
Durum yields of about 30 bushels per acre, and some as low as 10, have been seen.
The “weird” year is also characterized by fields of peas that were drowned out after a thunderstorm dumped 75 mm of rain in 20 minutes.
Still, dry conditions are a fact of life in the southwest, and true drought just makes the situation worse.
“It seems if you’re not in the drought (prevalent) Palliser Triangle it’s just kind of hard to get through to producers who don’t have the issue that we’re always looking over our shoulder… what if it’s dry?” he said.
Farmers in some regions might decide to apply canola inputs for a 50 bu. per acre crop because they can expect that eight years out of 10, he explained.
For Hale, that’s a 50-50 proposition or maybe worse.
He added this year the problem wasn’t really the lack of rain but that there wasn’t any reserve moisture. The 125 mm of precipitation they received would have been enough most years.
The lack of reserve moisture was a problem in many areas.
Near Davidson, Rob Stone said his farm is drier compared to the same time last year. The year started off pretty well but he estimated his farmland, particularly west of Davidson, is in now in the severe drought category.
“We’re reasonably satisfied with wheat yields,” he said last week.
Lentils were running lower and canola harvest is still ahead.
Last year, canola suffered significantly from the heat dome that covered much of the West, but Stone said this year the heat wasn’t as prolonged. Still, yields will likely be below average.
He said while the province overall has had much better growing conditions this year, the drought is still causing problems in pockets.
He said much of the red lentil production area is in drought and yields are way down.
Production concerns lead to marketing concerns and other decisions that have to be made for next year.
“Fusarium was my number one concern five years ago because it wouldn’t quit raining,” he observed.
Now, it’s too dry.