Why it's too early to worry about soil moisture

Despite dry conditions last summer across much of the southern Canadian Prairies, crop production through 2017 turned out better than expected. Soil moisture reserves carried over from a wetter 2016 managed to save the day.

But heading into the 2018 growing season, soil moisture reserves are low across much of Western Canada, raising concern about the impact on crops and market pricing.

Spring run-off

Winter precipitation across most of Western Canada has been markedly below average over the past two months. The current lack of snow obviously leaves little opportunity for significant run-off in the spring. The bigger concern for Prairie producers may be the fact that conditions have remained stubbornly dry now for months, a fact meteorologist Drew Lerner of World Weather Inc. alluded to in his recent Weather Prognosticator.

"Some of the areas with lowest snow cover are a part of the long-term drought pattern that began early last summer, suggesting the drought pattern has not ended," Lerner says, adding that the same weather pattern that limited summer precipitation last year is keeping snowfall away now.

Although ample subsoil moisture reserves allowed most Prairie crops to yield relatively well in 2017, a number of farmers have already expressed concerns about 2018 crop prospects in the absence of good spring rains. 

Still early

Admittedly, a lot can change in the months ahead of seeding 2018 crops, but dryness concerns will undoubtedly carry into the spring ahead.

The Commodity Weather Group says, “There is rarely any good correlation (in Canada or elsewhere) between precipitation in the fall-winter and the following season. Of seven other years since 1979 that were as dry or drier from November to January on the Prairies as a whole, only three were dry on a widespread basis in the spring as well (two of which were much drier than the current case over the winter). None really stood out as more than regionally dry in the summer”.

Late winter snow and spring rain/snow are the most important factors for soil recharge prospects.

Also worthy of note, snow that falls between November and January normally accounts for only a relatively small portion of total annual precipitation. More important is what precipitation is still to come. Late winter snow and spring rain-snow are the most important factors for soil recharge prospects.

Bottom line

With little snowfall this winter, concerns are rising about soil moisture levels for the 2018 planting season, and ultimately, crop market prices. However, there's still time for more snow and therefore, increased soil moisture levels.


Mike Jubinville of Pro Farmer Canada offers information on commodity markets and marketing strategies. Call 204-654-4290 or visit www.pfcanada.com to find out more about his services.