'The perfect rain' helping Manitoba pastures, but still not enough to end drought

Parts of southern and central Manitoba saw between 40 and 110 millimetres of rain between Friday and Saturday — the first significant rainfall some areas have seen in months.

Significant rainfall this weekend is turning brown pastures green, but producers say it's too late for crops

The weekend's rain might be enough to save pastures in Manitoba, but producers say it's not enough to replenish crop yields. (Patrick Foucault/Radio-Canada)

Tom Johnson didn't recognize his own land Saturday morning.

"I thought I was in a different country because two days ago everything was brown," he said.

The rancher near Oak Point, Man., woke up to green pastures, buds on his yard's trees and a bit of optimism.

Parts of southern and central Manitoba saw between 40 and 110 millimetres of rain between Friday and Saturday — the first significant rainfall some areas have seen in months.

Johnson's land is in the rural municipality of St. Laurent, which remains in a state of agricultural emergency due to drought and a grasshopper infestation. He said he barely got an inch of rain, but it did the trick.

He can tell his pasture is growing again, allowing him to feed his 120 head of cattle. Unlike other producers, Johnson was able to keep all of his cows this season. He fed them bulrush when the pasture and hay ran out, and he hauled water daily from two freshly drilled wells.

But his dugouts are still dry, and the wells aren't sustainable. His hay crop was written off in July. Now, Johnson is thinking about the future.

Tom Johnson says his dugout has dried up and his cattle no longer have access to Lake Manitoba for water. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

"Oh God, we need a real good snowfall like we used to [get] years ago," he said.

"Six, seven feet of snow would be unreal because the lake is so low. I've never seen Lake Manitoba that low."

'The perfect rain'

In southwestern Manitoba, Curtis Brown said this weekend gifted him with "the perfect rain."

"Judging by my travels around the province, I think outside of the Interlake, we're the driest part," said the fourth-generation farmer, adding his farm recorded about two inches of rain between Friday and Saturday.

Brown, his wife Ashley and their two young children run Food Ethos Farm near Coulter, Man.

"We are fairly lucky. I think we have enough pasture, and now I think we've secured enough winter forage," he said.

"Now we need to refill the dugout and the creeks need to run again. You can walk across anywhere ... and I'm told the Assiniboine River, you pretty well only need rubber boots to get across in a lot of places."

Tom Johnson and his son haul water daily from wells to his cows. The natural water reserves are all dried up, so they've had to manually bring water to the cattle all summer. (Submitted by Tom Johnson)

Drought isn't over 

The rain, however, can only help so much when it comes to this year's yield.

"It's very nice to get it, but it's not going to end the drought," said Larry Wegner, chair of the Manitoba Forage & Grassland Association.

"You have to look at a drought like being overdrawn at the bank. So if you're $1,000 overdrawn and you find $100 in your couch, that's great. But it doesn't bring you back to zero."

Wegner's farm in Virden, Man., received about 50 millimetres of rain in 12 hours this weekend. His land soaked it all up to the point that nearby creeks are still dry.

Wegner said the rain may actually have made things tougher for grain farmers who are trying to harvest, creating a mucky mess at the wrong time. 

"But you can't please everybody," he said. "The moisture is required to set us up for next year."

The soil pictured here should be full of water and used as a dugout, according to Johnson. More rain is needed to replenish his water supplies. (Submitted by Tom Johnson)

Back in St. Laurent, Johnson said he's still waiting for the insurance money for his hay crop. And while the province announced support for producers during this drought, he hasn't seen details on how to apply.

If it wasn't for his 28-year-old son keeping him going, Johnson said he may have retired already.

But the family farm celebrates 100 years in 2028, and the Johnsons are determined to reach the milestone — through drought, rain and whatever else life throws at them.

"We're trying our damndest to do it," Johnson said.


Sam Samson


Sam Samson is a senior reporter for CBC News, based in Regina. She's a multimedia journalist who has also worked for CBC in Winnipeg and Sudbury. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email

With files from Mina Collin


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