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Farmers racing to get crops into the ground

Farmers’ annual race against cold fall weather has already begun.

Another cool spring has delayed seeding and slowed germination, said Harry Brook, an Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development crop specialist at the department’s Ag-Info Centre in Stettler.

“Looking at the calendar, a lot of these crops — like the wheat and the canola — it’s getting to the later end of their traditional seeding time where you can be assured that it’ll have enough heat units to mature,” said Brook.

“The later it gets, the greater the risk is that you’re going to get hit at the other end with a killing frost before the plant is totally mature.”

The past few weeks have seen a big push by farmers to get their crops in, said Brook, who estimates that seeding in the region is about 50 to 60 per cent complete.

“For a lot of Central Alberta, it’s really caught up a lot. Soils have warmed up, and the fact is, people just can’t wait.”

Getting seed into the ground is no guarantee of a timely crop, however. Plants may be slow to germinate and grow when the soil is cold.

It’s still too early to panic, said Brook, pointing out that crops got off to slow starts the past several years but escaped severe frost damage. Last year’s harvest even generated a record haul.

“We’re definitely behind, but then again, what’s normal?”

Despite this spring’s cool conditions, there hasn’t been a lot of precipitation in most areas, noted Brook. Accordingly, crops will need rain over the next few weeks.

Canola appears to be the crop of choice again, thanks to continued strong prices.

“It makes the most sense economically,” said Brook.

Canola is also the most expensive to put in, he added, increasing farmers’ risk in the event of a crop failure.

There’s also a lot of wheat being seeded, said Brook.

“The acreage for barley just continues to decline year over year on the Prairies,” he continued. “The same with oats.”

A big carry-over from last year’s bumper crop is putting downward pressure of feed grain prices, observed Brook.

“It’s hard to see any light at all in the feed grains industry. But that being said, all it takes is a six- or eight-week drought at the wrong time in the States, and all of a sudden you’ve got feed shortages.”

The prices of other ag commodities will also be impacted by how much of the 2013 crop remains on the Prairies, and output from the rest of the world, said Brook.

“We kind of rely on disaster somewhere else to give us a boost up, but I don’t think there’s a lot of upward momentum in crop prices right now.

“A lot of other wheat-growing areas in the world are looking quite good.”

Brook is a little concerned about forage crops, which have also been delayed by the cool weather.

With their hay supplies exhausted by the long, cold winter, many cattle producers put their livestock on pasture earlier than they should have, he said.

“You permanently damage the grass plant’s ability to regrow because you’re cutting them down when they need their energy in the roots.”

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