Dry conditions threaten to turn into drought in Battlefords area
By John Cairns
The “D” word is increasingly on the minds of people with respect to conditions in the Northwest region as far as crops go.
And by “D” we don’t simply mean “dry.” However, the province is stopping short of calling the situation a “drought,” for now.
“We could use a good general rain, an inch or two,” acknowledges Shannon Friesen, cropping management specialist with the provincial ministry of agriculture based in Moose Jaw, in speaking with the News-OptimistFriday.
The latest crop report released June 18, covering conditions for June 9-15 in the province, acknowledged recent rain, helped replenish topsoil moisture conditions in some regions. Still “significant rain is needed soon in many areas,” according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The rain was not enough to replenish all moisture in the topsoil, said Friesen. “Things currently are still dry and remain dry, and we could use rain in the next little while to get things up and going. For the most part, the topsoil conditions are deteriorating.”
Conditions province wide on cropland are rated as three per cent surplus, 45 per cent adequate, 35 per cent short and 17 per cent very short. Meanwhile the province rates hay land and pasture topsoil moisture as one per cent surplus, 33 per cent adequate, 42 per cent short and 24 per cent very short.
They also report delayed crop development in some areas due to cool and dry weather. Fifty-one per cent of fall cereals, 60 per cent spring cereals, 53 per cent of oilseeds and 56 per cent pulse crops are at their normal developmental stages for this time of year, with the majority of crops in fair to good condition.
Many crops are a week to three weeks behind where they would normally be.
“The good news, if there is any, is that we are ahead in crop development to where we were last year at this time, so as long as we get some rain and some warm sunshine those crops can quickly advance and get right back on track,” Friesen said.
As for the Northwest region, the situation depends on where you are with wide variations in the conditions.
As part of the report, a map of the province was provided showing some particularly dry conditions in the Battlefords area. The area between the Battlefords and Wilkie was highlighted in dark orange, indicating that cropland topsoil conditions were rated as “very short.”
Hay and pasture moisture conditions were also described as “very short” in that area and also to the immediate northeast of the Battlefords as well.
The situation improves somewhat to the northeast of North Battleford, which Friesen calls “slightly better” but still “nowhere near where we would like it.”
The Hafford area’s cropland topsoil approaches “adequate,” though hay and pasture topsoil is still described as “short.”
The Hafford area is helped by 84 mm of rain since April 1, the greatest amount for the Northwest region. But the crop report also noted that more rain was needed soon to help crops, hay land and pasture develop.
In the Northwest, cropland topsoil moisture is rated as 51 per cent adequate, 39 per cent short and 10 per cent very short. Hay land and pasture topsoil moisture is rated 26 per cent adequate, 55 per cent short and 19 per cent very short.
“It’s slightly better than the provincial average but not a very ideal situation at the moment,” said Friesen.
As for whether the word “drought” should be used to describe the situation, Friesen said “not quite yet.”
“For most cases a lot of those crops are actually able to hold onto the subsoil moisture. So even though the topsoil is dry there still a little bit of moisture underneath.”
But the situation is a reverse of past years, she added. “In some cases the hay is prematurely headed-out and livestock producers are not expecting to get much of a cut, if anything. So haying is unlikely to be as good, I guess you could say, as we had in the past.”
To turn the situation around, a good general rain is needed – “an inch or two,” Friesen said. “In some areas they could use three inches and things would really perk up.”
But she acknowledges it won’t help everyone, as “it’s a little too late for some of those hay crops and pasture land – it’s just too far gone already.”