Lack of moisture on Prairies hinders optimism

(Resource News International) — Absence of precipitation in the western regions of central Saskatchewan and central Alberta areas has hindered optimism about production prospects, according to industry officials. The lack of moisture in the nearby forecasts also paints a worrisome crop outlook.

“Some of those areas in question have not received any substantive precipitation since the end of the last growing season,”  said Bruce Burnett, director of the Canadian Wheat Board’s weather and crop surveillance department in Winnipeg. “Essentially, there was no moisture received during the fall, winter and early spring period.”

Burnett said it was very important that some rain falls soon in those areas in order to get the crops emerged and growing.

According to precipitation maps provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, less than 40 per cent of normal precipitation has fallen in the driest areas of Saskatchewan into the bottom half of Alberta during the period of April 1 to May 28. The western third of Saskatchewan and the remaining regions of Alberta have only received 40 to 60 per cent of their normal precipitation.

AAFC maps covering the Sept. 1, 2008 to May 28, 2009 time frame show record dryness in a region straddling the area located along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border in the central regions of the provinces. The moisture in the areas surrounding the record dryness locations have also been extremely low with the map indicating precipitation in the surrounding areas at less than 10 per cent of normal.

“Producers have already begun to see the impact of no rain in those regions given the very spotty emergence of the crops,” Burnett said.

Adding to the problem was that temperatures over the past week have significantly warmed up in those areas, drying out any remaining topsoil moisture, Burnett said.

The regions located next to the districts that have suffered because of no rain are also becoming a great concern, he said.

“Some of the surrounding areas had some good sub-surface moisture levels to work with, but with the warmer readings and the absence of significant rain, those water reserves are also now being depleted quickly,” Burnett said.  

“It’s at the point where western Saskatchewan and Alberta are in critical need of rain,” Burnett said.

He noted that producers in some of those critically dry areas made the decision toward planting drought-tolerant crops.

“I think what happened to a lot of farmers in the areas, they initially planted some of those drought-tolerant crops, but as things got drier and drier, they stopped seeding altogether,” Burnett said.

Some producers were believed to have taken a chance and planted more vulnerable crops, and were the ones in serious need of moisture.

“It is really a case-by-case, or in this instance, a field-by-field situation,” Burnett said.

He noted that the viability of the stands is probably what has suffered the greatest due to the lack of precipitation. Low plant populations will also be the result of the poor moisture situation.

The lack of moisture in those regions hasn’t caused any major panic yet in the futures markets, said Mike Jubinville, an analyst with ProFarmer Canada. However, he indicated that the trade has now started to take notice given the record dryness that has been identified.

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