Organic crops show strong quality as Prairie harvest drags on

Organic wheat, oats and barley are still standing in some areas of north-central Alberta. Photo: File

By Terry Fries
Commodity News Service Canada 

While many organic producers struggle to complete harvest in the wake of recent rain and snow, the overall crop quality appears good.

While some downgrading due to weather may yet occur, the general consensus is that most growers are seeing good crops.

“Seventy-five per cent of quality looks great. The only reason it’s not 100 is because 25 per cent of the crop has yet to be harvested,” said Jason Charles of Pipeline Foods, who also farms in southeastern Saskatchewan.

“But everything that is off, looks really good.”

He said that is a general consensus he’s getting from reports from about 1,000 growers.

On the downside, prices are off from what organic farmers have become used to and many will likely let a lot of the crop sit in the bin, until the situation changes.

Jason Braelt of R.W. Organic Ltd. at Mossbank, Sask., said harvest in his area of southern Saskatchewan was over “very, very quick” and about 80 per cent of the organic crop in his area had been harvested of Sept. 27.

Right now, with our own crops, it wasn’t close to last year. – Jason Braelt

Anybody who got any harvest in before the recent rains arrived likely got good quality, he said, but it’s hit and miss.

“Right now, with our own crops, it wasn’t close to last year,” he said.

Meanwhile, some neighbours just a short distance away got the timely rains and they will fare much better.

“Our problem around here, we got nothing (for rain) in July. So when it (wheat) was really heading out, no rain came and we didn’t get yields.”

Scott Shiels of Grain Millers Inc. at Yorkton, Sask., who buys organic products from across the Prairies, said while the recent precipitation created another challenge for growers, he didn’t expect it would have far-reaching consequences for the crop.

He said a couple of cool drying days will help the crop dry slowly and prevent sprouting issues. Then once the ground dries, growers can get back into fields.

“It’s going to be one of those years, but they’ll get the crop off and get into the bin,” he said.

Except in areas south of the Trans-Canada Highway, he said a large part of the organic crop remains in fields. While farmers will see some damage “the quality is looking really, really good and the yields are pretty good.”

He attributed that to producer awareness, for leaving crops standing when they heard inclement weather was on the way, and to modern plant genetics with greater lodging resistance.

In Manitoba, Bryce Lobreau of Pristine Prairie Organics near Pipestone, said harvest in his area is mostly complete and he’s seeing good quality.

He’s sold some spring wheat for C$18 and higher on a crop that averaged 55 bushels per acre, under irrigation. He also manages a cattle herd, so the crops had plenty of manure, he said.

He said prices for feed grains are likely to remain soft given the amount of the crop that has yet to be harvested and the fact that those crops will likely see some downgrading.

In Alberta, Bernie Ehnes, a director at Organic Alberta, an organic farmer southwest of Medicine Hat, and an inspector for organic crop certifiers, said while most of the organic peas are harvested, a lot of other organic crops remain in fields in central and northern areas due to autumn precipitation.

During the last few weeks, Ehnes has travelled throughout Alberta and he estimated that about 10 to 15 per cent of the organic harvest was complete as of Sept. 27.

Farmers in drier areas outside of the south might be fortunate enough to have taken off as much as 20 per cent, he said.

Ehnes completed his own harvest a week ago with yields on organic wheat just two to three bushels less than average. However, he said his farm was much drier than most other areas.

In his travels, he saw organic wheat, oats and barley still standing in areas from Athabasca north of Edmonton, to regions east of Edmonton around Killam and Lougheed and in the central part of the province extending south to Strathmore.

“There’s a lot of crop that’s ready to go and be combined, it’s just waiting for the rain to stop,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of getting it off.”