Manitoba farmers optimistic about the start of spring seeding

Manitoba farmers are getting seeds in the ground earlier than last year, making some optimistic about the growing season.

The 2023 seeding season is a little delayed compared with the average spring, but far better than 2022, Minto-area farmer Jake Ayer said. Last year, farmers faced extreme delays due to excess moisture brought on by multiple Colorado lows at the start of the season. In some cases, seeding was delayed by more than a month.

“It’s definitely a lot less stressful this year,” he said. 

Ayer, who is also Keystone Agricultural Producers vice president, said there is a lot of variability across the province when it comes to producers starting seeding. Some fields are dry with machines already on the ground, while others have standing water that needs to dry out before seeding can get started.

A man wearing a blue shirt and green baseball bat takes a photo in the seat of a combine.
Seeding this year is a little delayed compared with the average spring, said Jake Ayer, Keystone Agricultural Producers vice-president, and a Minto-area farmer. (Submitted by Jake Ayer)

Ayer started seeding on his farm, about 240 kilometres west of Winnipeg, in early May.

Carter McKinney, has a farm in Waskada, about 330 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, and said the season has been good, although rain led to a bit of a slow start.

McKinney still has about 75 per cent of his fields to seed and said most producers are in a similar position.

“Before the rain, the low areas in our particular neck of the woods were still a little damp, but they were drivable,” McKinney said. “A lot of the low spots have just a little bit of water on top of them currently and will take a few days to dry. But, it shouldn’t be a major, major delay.”

He added he is not too worried because farmers have until June 20 to get seeds in the ground to qualify for crop insurance.

The Manitoba government will release its first crop report for the 2023 growing season on May 16.

A tractor drives through a field pulling farming equipment.
Spring seeding is underway in Westman, about 110 kilometres west of Winnipeg. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Alex Burgess farms around the Minnedosa area, about 220 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, and said he sees all types of different weather. About 20 per cent of his acres are seeded and he hopes is finish it up before the end of May.

“The earlier you can get most of the crops in, the better it is for yield potential … We have a short growing season up here,” Burgess said. “If you get your wheat in late, it doesn’t mature to its full potential.”

Working with mother nature

Ayer uses about six weather apps and has weather stations on the farm because the forecast is a high priority on the farm — it directly affects the growth of the farm’s crop and seed production of corn, soybeans, oats, canola, winter wheat, perennial ryegrass and barley.

They have a diverse crop rotation to help spread out risk because some crops are more tolerant to drier or wetter weather, Ayer said.

A man smiles for a photo wearing an orange shirt.
Farmer Carter McKinney still has to seed about 75 per cent of his fields in the Waskada area, about 330 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. (Submitted by Carter McKinney)

McKinney said so far it seems like it will be an normal year, without fields getting too wet or too dry. He grows canola and peas based on market prices and what grows best on his land.

He said most crop plans are locked in the fall before spring.

“We don’t usually deviate it too much … We might change something, but rarely would we change too much due to weather,” McKinney said.

Farmers are hoping for the perfect weather forecast for the rest of the season, Ayer said. Just the right amount of rain, heat and wind across the whole summer.

“The story in agriculture and farming is … like that three bears analogy with the porridge. It’s always too hot. It’s always too cold. It’s never just right,” Ayer said. “There’s a lot of risk involved and there’s a lot of decisions you have to make on the fly and adjust for … We’re more or less professional gamblers.”