Last chance until spring

Canola producers who tried to squeeze a few extra weeks of ripening weather out of Mother Nature this fall could find themselves harvesting next spring.

Canola producers who tried to squeeze a few extra weeks of ripening weather out of Mother Nature this fall could find themselves harvesting next spring.

About 10 per cent of the 2009 oilseed crop remains in the field, said Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development crop specialist Harry Brook on Wednesday.

“October was almost a total waste,” he said, commenting on the persistent wet weather during the month.

Brook, who works out of the province’s Ag-Info Centre in Stettler, said about five per cent of the canola crop probably came off last week when conditions improved.

With temperatures now forecast to reach the low teens over the next couple of days, farmers have a further chance to get their crops into the bin.

“If you don’t get it off this weekend, this might be your last chance until springtime,” he said, noting that a heavy snowfall could hit at any time.

A spring harvest is not an attractive option. Many canola growers were forced into that situation in 2005, said Brook, without favourable results.

“Come springtime, the majority of that canola went sample (grade) because there were either mouse droppings in it or it had gone rancid or just gone out of condition.”

This year, many producers delayed harvest after their crops germinated later than usual.

They hoped additional time in the field would reduce the number of green seeds and improve grades.

“They just got caught,” said Brook. “Our good weather ran out at the end of September.”

The canola that’s now coming out of the combines has a high moisture content, but it’s too late to worry about that.

“It’s probably costing well over $250 an acre to put that crop of canola in,” pointed out Brook. “That’s a huge amount of money invested in a crop, so it’s imperative that you get it off.”

Although 10 per cent moisture is typically the maximum that grain buyers will accept, some have pushed the figure up — although producers have to pay for drying costs.

There’s also been a big demand for grain dryers, he said. But a failure to dry canola sufficiently raises the risk that stored seeds will rot if temperatures rise.

“It’s kind of like a ticking time bomb.”

Meanwhile, the late harvest has likely prevented many farmers from planting fall-seeded crops.

“I think our winter wheat is going to be way down,” said Brook.

Despite these problems, he’s been surprised by how good the 2009 crop has been.

“Considering the amount of moisture we got this year, and just the atrocious start to the year, I’ve been talking to some producers who had an amazingly good yield.”

Looking ahead to next year, Brook is worried about dry soil conditions.

“We need as much moisture as we can possibly get this fall before winter sets in, and we definitely need some major snowfall.”

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