Canada’s Prairie agriculture is described as dry-land farming and for some time now the region has been living up to that description. Farmers in the prairies need heavy winter snows as much as spring rains to replenish their soils ahead of the growing season. Much of the southern Prairie region has received less than half of its average precipitation, and there are no storms forecast in the near future.
Bill Campbell is president Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba’s largest general farm organization. Campbell, who farms near Brandon, said perennial forage crops are showing stress, and if there was ever a time for low-till spring planting practices, this is the year. In his region, Campbell saw obvious dry weather patterns setting in late last summer.
“Since August of ’20, we’ve had very limited precipitation,” Campbell noted. “The first thing that will be impacted will be the forages. We, for the most part, have not started planting the crop yet. Producers need to conserve every bit of moisture that is in their soil at this particular time and not waste that moisture with tillage. The main thing will be to get the seeds in the ground for germination.”
He said the Canadian Prairies were brutally cold and dry throughout the winter months. March turned warmer but with very little snow to melt. So far, April is forecast to remain much the same. Precipitation levels in southern parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan are down 20% of what has normally been for the past 40 years.
David Phillips, who is a semi-retired senior meteorologist with Environment Canada, began his career in the early 1970s
“I’ve never seen Manitoba so dry as I’ve seen it this particular spring, and really south-eastern prairies. Central Alberta, never been drier, maybe the second driest in a hundred and thirty years. Current conditions don’t give a ray of optimism for people who depend upon water.”
Because dry weather patterns are typical for Prairie regions, soils have adapted to storing moisture in deeper sub-soils. But Patrick Keillor, a Winnipeg-based meteorologist who studies weather effects on soils, says generally low precipitation in recent years has dangerously depleted moisture-storage levels.
“The lack of rain over the last few growing seasons, much of that storage has been depleted. This winter, for example, we only saw about 25 millimeters (less than 1″) of precipitation from December through February, which is very little. You can get that much in one storm in summer. For crops that either can’t go down deep to access that deep-layer moisture, or if there’s no deep-layer moisture left, the crops simply aren’t going to be able to develop.”
The Manitoba government has already imposed burning restrictions across southern and eastern parts of the province. Grass fires have already been reported, one believed to have been started by an ATV near Carberry, Manitoba, forced residents to evacuate.
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