Manitoba

Heavy snows in Manitoba have farmers praying for sun

Manitoba farmers and ranchers, who spent the last two years praying for an end to drought conditions, suddenly find themselves hoping for something different from the weather gods — warmth.

Long winter has farmers anxious to get seeds in the ground

Conditions are less than ideal in southern Manitoba for seeding. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Manitoba farmers and ranchers, who spent the last two years praying for an end to drought conditions, suddenly find themselves hoping for something different from the weather gods — warmth.

The persistence of snow on the ground and the prospect of another snowstorm has some agricultural producers concerned about a shorter-than-usual window to seed their fields, said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.

"It's looking like we won't get on the land for the 10th of May," Campbell said Monday from his farm near Minto, in the southwestern Manitoba municipality of Grasslands. "We don't have a lot of cushion or room for error."

Most of southern Manitoba remains covered in snow deposited by last week's storm, which varied in intensity from a 13-cm dump in the least-impacted area of the Red River Valley to 82 cm in Onanole, just south of Riding Mountain National Park.

Another 25 to 40 mm of precipitation are expected when another Colorado Low moves through Manitoba later this week, and some of that may fall in the form of snow in western Manitoba, Environment Canada predicted Monday.

Campbell said that means the snowmelt in most agricultural regions of the province will be delayed by another week or 10 days, creating a tight window for seeding prior to the optimal start date of May 15.

"There's no panic, but I think everybody needs to be aware of the tight timeframe for seeding their crops," he said.

"We need some heat. We're going to have to have some of it to get things going."

Campbell said most producers are grateful for Manitoba's unusually snowy winter after experiencing drought conditions in 2020 and 2021.

At the same time, most would prefer rain at this point, not snow, he said. Ranchers are having a particularly tough time, as some cattle producers suffered losses during last week's snowstorm and are not eager to endure another during calving season, he said.

"People are running short of straw and are running short of feed and there's none available," he said. "Another Colorado Low is stressful."

A minor dusting of snow in late spring is not a major problem if fields are seeded already. In 2015, for example, the Red River Valley received 2.5 cm of snow over the May long weekend.

The most recent major snowfall to occur well into the seeding season took place on May 11-12, 2004, when 25 to 35 cm fell on Winnipeg and Brandon received 34 cm, said Rob Paola, a retired Environment Canada meteorologist.

Campbell said many producers are anxious to get going given the uncertainties of global markets. The war in Ukraine, for example, has increased demand for grain and oilseeds and driven up commodity prices.

Producers can't control that any more than they can the weather.

"This winter just keeps on coming," Campbell joked.

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