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Rain threatens to wash away $2B in farm income

Record-setting recent rainfall has threatened up to $2-billion worth of Manitoban crops, putting farmers across the province in recovery mode with winter swiftly approaching.
 
Between Thursday and Saturday evenings, swaths of the province were pelted with more than 100 millimetres of rain. Brandon normally averages around 44 mm in the entire month of September, according to 30 years of data from Environment and Climate Change Canada, but over the weekend, received as much as 122 mm.
 
In Zhoda, 90 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, 144 mm of rain was recorded, leading the province.
 
A couple of months ago, during growing season, the precipitation might have come as welcome news for agricultural producers. But with significant amounts of harvesting still ahead, the rain might lead to calamitous results and major losses in terms of both yield and crop quality for farmers who normally rely on a dryer September for harvesting, said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.
 
With approximately half of Manitoba's 10-million acres of crop production yet to be harvested, and with each acre worth an average of $400, Campbell estimates as much as $2 billion of wheat, canola, soy beans, and a variety of other crops, are still sitting in fields, with farmers hoping the rain lets up long enough for their land to dry.
 
"We've been down this road before at various levels, but never this widespread and never with so much at risk," Campbell said in an interview Monday.
 
"We're going to have to fight for everything we get this year," agreed Curtis McRae, who farms wheat, canola, sunflowers, soya beans, corn and cattle in St. Andrews, north of Winnipeg.
 
McRae's farm received about 50 mm of rainfall over the weekend, and he was able to harvest a decent amount prior to the downpour. "I knew there was a good storm coming, so I finished what I could (beforehand)."
 
But even with less precipitation, his crops, including soya beans, still aren't out of harm's way. The amount of water means McRae can't safely or efficiently operate his equipment in the fields, and the longer it takes to dry up, the worse the outlook for crop quality and yield. 
 
If the saturation of the soil doesn't decrease, the moisture will cause crops to germinate, downgrading the value and eventually rendering the crop unsellable, McRae said. And if grain isn't transported to bins in dry conditions, it will spoil, he added.
 
In the St. François Xavier area, west of Winnipeg, Gunter Jochum's Blue Diamond Farms also managed to get ahead of the rain, with about 800 acres (a little more than one-quarter) of its 3,000 total acres unharvested. His farm got 127 mm of rain, hindering progress; he's been unable to get out and harvest since Thursday.
 
"It just keeps raining every other day, so grain that's in the field doesn't have a chance to dry out before harvest," he said. 
 
The rain bodes well for next year, Jochum said, because it recharges the soil, but for this season, it is far from ideal. The wet soil puts crops at risk of degradation, and gives mildew increased opportunity to damage the remaining yield.
 
"It's not just a yield loss, but a quality loss, and then that affects how much we get paid," Jochum said. "That loss is directly to farmers."
 
On Monday, much of the province enjoyed sunlight and no precipitation, but even so, some farmland was inaccessible due to standing water. Many of those who did get out in the field had to contend with muddy conditions, which slows down the normal pace.
 
"We will be fighting with a lot of mud, and it won't be pretty," Jochum said. "Something that should take four days, might take eight."
 
With the end of September, the main harvest month, drawing near, time is of the essence. "Every day that goes by without harvesting is one day closer to winter," Jochum added.
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