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A mid-April dumping of snow in southeast Saskatchewan might have been a shot in the arm for producers, but as seeding gets underway, there’s still a serious thirst for more moisture in the farming and beef industries.
Mark Neuman is a producer north of Frobisher who farms and has cattle. Most of his farming is organic, though he has some conventional land.
He said more precipitation would help planting oil seeds, and increase the amount of water and food available for livestock.
Neuman said having no runoff over the past two winters (the 2020-21 winter was the seventh driest on record for the Estevan area, and the 2019-20 was the driest according to Environment Canada) and only about 3.5 to 4 inches of total rainfall area for the growing season is “certainly concerning.”
“Thank goodness we had that wet fall we did in 2019 to help with the soil moisture reserves, but now those reserves are gone. And so the snow storm, the late snow storm, certainly was a god send. It was a start. It’s not going to be enough. It’s probably improved for the seeding conditions as well as people’s psychology as a sigh of relief – ‘yes, we can get some moisture in.'”
Timely rains would give the crops a big boost as they start out.
“Last year our rains were so slight we only had three and maybe four 10ths of an inch-maximum rainfall events last year,” said Neuman. “And we need a little bit more than that. But this last snowfall, my rain gauge after I thawed it out, we had a little over an inch of total moisture. Thank goodness for that late snowfall.”
Neuman said putting some cereals into drier dirt is okay, as you can seed a little deeper to get contact with moist soil.
“The challenge becomes your oil seeds – your finer seeds – canola and flax. If you have good moisture to seed into, it is ideal. You can get away with the seed laying in the ground for a little while, but my experience shows that if you have a timely rain and seed right into it, it’s far more beneficial for canola and flax to emerge properly.”
The beef industry might not have the same profit margin as farming, but Neuman said things are at least steady with cattle.
As corn and coybean futures rally high (corn just hit a seven-year high on the Chicago Board of Trade due to drought conditions in North and South Dakota), beef prices typically drift lower. But that hasn’t been the case yet.
“But thank goodness our price indicators have not dropped right off. We’re still getting fairly strong bids for our calves,” Neuman said.
The bigger issue for cattle producers is an ongoing lack of moisture.
“We’ve had two winters with no run off, our dug outs are getting extremely low. So there’s going to have to be some water management planning going forward for more producers on pasture, and maybe this next winter for winter facilities, will there be enough water? I think that’s a bigger concern going forward for 2021, is having enough water reserves for livestock.”
Neuman made several extra dugouts the last few years to collect water which can be pumped into the main dugouts.
He said strategically-planned grazing has also lessened some of the pressure.
“Getting them moved around and using remote water systems will help a lot for water quality, as well as preserving those locations for dugouts so that they don’t get too eroded or pushed in by lifestock having direct access to them.”
Another challenge is food.
“Hay and pastures are in moisture deficits. They need early spring moisture to be most productive. It will certainly be challenging for livestock producers this year.”
Neuman said that organic farming isn’t as profitable right now, and he’s worried more organic farmland will be switched back to conventional. Though that could potentially carry some more opportunity for those who stay in organic down the line.
But overall he added that producers have been able to operate as usual despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’re going to take the good with the bad. It’s a tough slug these 12 months with COVID. I think fortunately for most rural producers, being in the country, it has not had the same impact as it has had for our urban neighbours. There’s not a lot of things they can do, but for the most part, farming is usual. But we’re seeing some good price signals on the conventional side of things. If we can get some good timely rains, producers hopefully will be in a good spot come harvest time, as long as the market stays steady.”
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