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Spring outlook cooler for Prairies, warmer for Ontario

Prairie crop establishment a concern this spring

Growers in parts of Ontario may get an early start on planting this spring, while Prairie fields may see lingering snow and later-than-average last frosts.

WeatherFarm’s spring forecast, powered by U.S.-based DTN Progressive Farmer, projects a cold start to the spring as likely for the western half of Canada, reversing the milder conditions shown over the past three springs.

The La Nina event over the Pacific Ocean this winter will act as what DTNPF meteorologist Jim Block described Monday as a “forcing function” and “will only slowly fade over the next few months,” the companies said in their outlook.

La Nina — an event characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, known to bring colder and wetter springtime weather patterns to Western Canada — isn’t as strong this year as in 2011, but it’s expected to leave winter “slow to release its grip until mid-spring.”

The later half of the spring is expected to trend more toward average temperatures, WeatherFarm and DTNPF said, but wetness could persist, likely delaying spring field work on the Prairies.

The Prairies’ relatively thin snow cover far this winter — outside of southern Alberta and parts of the Peace region, that is — also raises concerns about crop establishment in 2018, the companies said.

The forecast points to improved moisture levels in the southern Prairies in March and April — and a drier pattern returning in May.

Improved soil moisture conditions this spring are expected to be “critical” for crops grown south of the Trans-Canada Highway, where above-normal precipitation during April would be of the greatest help.

Looking ahead to summer, crops in Western Canada will still be dependent on timely rainfall, DTNPF meteorologist Bryce Anderson said Monday.

It’s a tall order to suggest this spring’s precipitation will serve to restore soil moisture in parts of the Prairies where it’s been drawn down, but a slow start to spring and cooler-than-normal temperatures would help conserve moisture in those areas, WeatherFarm’s Bruce Burnett said.

Wetter conditions may again challenge farmers trying to seed in northern areas of Alberta, the companies added.

Head start

The eastern half of Canada will tend to see a warmer pattern for most of the spring, the companies said.

Outside “intermittent periods” of colder-than-normal air, warmer-than-normal temperatures should be seen for “the majority of the season” in the region, with “adequate” precipitation likely in the western half of Eastern Canada and a short “period of dryness” further east.

There is a better chance of getting a head start on the growing season this spring in areas east of the Great Lakes, the companies said, but otherwise, the region can expect a slow dry.

An early start to the spring melt season has already led to flooding in parts of southwestern Ontario, but the prospects for warmer temperatures this spring will allow for an earlier start to planting, the companies said, and subsoil moisture is considered good to excellent across the province.

Above-normal precipitation — especially in areas recently hit with large amounts of rainfall — could dampen hopes for early planting in parts of the province, the companies cautioned.

The weakening La Nina event now seen over the Pacific leaves the forecasters with a “modest” degree of confidence in their outlook, Block said, compared to the confidence one might expect going through a stronger La Nina or El Nino event.

Looking further ahead, Block sees no strong signatures yet suggesting any return of El Nino — the ocean-warming opposite phase to La Nina — though in the latter part of 2018, forecasters could see the Pacific slide back into a weak La Nina.

Burnett will further discuss the spring outlook on Thursday’s (March 1) episode of Between the Rows, Glacier FarmMedia’s weekly podcast. — Network