Rain, hail rob some western Manitoba farmers of record crop

Wet, water-drenched fields are preventing some farmers from checking their crops and harvesting what can be salvaged after weekend storms brought damaging hail and downpours in southern Manitoba.

Heavy rain on the weekend is preventing farmers from getting their crops in the bin

Bill Campbell's farm, 30 miles south of Brandon. (Bill Campbell)

Bill Campbell likens this fall's harvest to a horse race. 

"You are at the final turn and you are bearing down on the finish line and you know you are so close," said Campbell, a fourth generation farmer about 50 kilometres south of Brandon.

"It's so rewarding to get it all in the bin and to not be able to achieve that is extremely frustrating."

The recent high humidity and heavy rain is not only making it difficult for farmers to get their crop off, it is extending the harvest season in a race against time because of more rain in the forecast along with cooler temperatures. 

Campbell produces wheat, barley, oats, canola, corn and peas. He has livestock on his traditional mixed farm which has been in the family for 138 years.

Campbell said he hasn't be able to check about 32 hectares of wheat he still has left in the field because it's too wet. He doesn't know if he wants to.

"You can only handle so much mental stress and depression that you just ignore it," said Campbell. 

He's assessing what crops can still be salvaged, depending on their condition. Part of his cereal crop is gone. He says it would take at least ten days of warm weather before he would be able to even consider putting a combine on the ground.

"It's hard to not feel cheated this year," he said, particularly because he had such a good crop.

"This would have been the best crop this farm has ever produced in its life dating back to 1881. And to not be able to put it in the bin in frustrating."

With the forecast for rain Tuesday and Thursday, Campbell said that sets harvest back even further.

"The canola needs to get in the bin. It's been out there long enough. The wheat we have already I have seen sprouted. We have seen mildew. We have seen degrading. We have lost bushel weight and we have lost quality. We are pretty much in feed mode right now, that means what's in the field is only good for livestock," he explained.

Campbell is also president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, the farm policy organization representing more than 3,000 farmers around the province.

He said the areas that have sustained the worst damage are around Steinbach and Brandon. Some farms near Souris were hit by 13 to 18 centimetres of rain in one weekend. And he said there are some farmers that are putting in claims for hail damage. 

"I know a lot of guys who don't have a dry kernel of wheat in the bin. We are going to get less money for it when we take it to the elevator," he added.

Campbell estimates there's about $2-billion worth of crops still sitting out on the ground waiting for farmers to harvest. He came to that number by taking a conservative value of production of about $980 per hectare.

And with no dry warm weather in sight in the forecast, it will be hard to get what's left of the crop off.

"My concern is the temperature is going down and we are going to see highs of single digits. Nothing much dries in October with single digits," he said.

Campbell said farmers are going to have to dry a lot of their crop using storage technology with aeration. 

"But what is the value of the crop when we get it to market going to be? We haven't even talked about that yet," he said.

He said if farmers can't pay their bills, it has a domino effect. They don't buy things locally, they don't have money to re-invest in their farms. It also has an impact on whether their children go to university and how much they have to spend for Christmas.

"This impacts everybody, not just us."

Marianne Klowak