Farmers across Western Canada are optimistic about forage crop production this spring, as moisture conditions look good in all three Prairie provinces, according to industry officials.
Though soil conditions were fairly dry ahead of winter freeze-up across some areas in Western Canada, snow cover this winter has been very good, which should help moisture conditions in the spring.
"Most of the province (Alberta) is sitting at or above normal snowfall amounts," said Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Ag-Info Centre at Stettler.
"Pincher Creek and Lethbridge are a little bit below normal, but once you get north of Highway 1, the remainder of the province probably has 120 to 150 per cent of normal snowfall accumulations."
In Saskatchewan, most areas are around 150 to 200 per cent above average snow cover, so moisture conditions are "looking very good," said Kevin France, forage specialist with Saskatchewan’s ministry of agriculture in Regina.
Most regions in Manitoba have received average snow cover levels of 100 per cent — but some areas in the western part of the province received a lot of snow cover, in the 200 to 240 per cent above average range, according to a recent flood outlook report from the province.
How much moisture the soil will actually absorb, however, depends on how fast the snow melts.
"If it’s a very fast melt, we might lose some of that into off-stream runoff," said Glenn Friesen, forage specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives at Carman.
"But at this point on the forage side we’re pretty happy with the amount of moisture that’s out there; there’s lots of snow cover so we don’t think winterkill should be an issue at this point."
Producers aren’t particularly worried about frost damage right now either, because the crops are still in dormancy, he said.
Some producers in eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, however, are a little concerned about flooding due to high snow cover levels.
"There are preparations being made with the fear of some potential localized flooding events throughout the eastern sections" of Saskatchewan, said France.
As of mid-March, producers were optimistic that forage and pasture production in Western Canada will be good this year, which may encourage them to expand their herds.
"We are hearing stories that there is going to be some herd expansion but not anywhere near what there was for cow numbers back five to six years ago," Yaremcio said.
How much herd growth happens across all three provinces will depend on cattle prices, because farmers won’t expand if it means losing money.
– Terryn Shiells writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.