Talking about the weather is a Canadian pastime and an obsession among grain producers.
There’s been a lot to talk about this spring, with a big low pressure system often following close on the heels of the last. There’s been an amazing amount of precipitation. Areas that were bone dry are now saturated.
Not surprisingly, Saskatchewan seeding progress is far behind normal and there’s a significant danger of many acres going unseeded. The provincial agriculture department estimates that 28 per cent of the provincial crop was seeded as of May 18, versus a five-year average of 60 per cent. At no time in the past 10 years has seeding been so late.
Within the northeast and east central regions of the grain belt, there are crop districts with very little seed in the ground.
As farmers gather and commiserate about seeding delays, they quote from the latest Environment Canada forecasts and what they’ve seen and heard on The Weather Network.
Increasingly, producers are also discussing what World Weather Inc. is predicting. Based in Kansas, this private forecasting company is quickly gaining a loyal following.
For the past few years, Larry Weber of Weber Commodities in Saskatoon has raved about Drew Lerner of World Weather Inc. Now, many producers are paying the fee to subscribe to Lerner’s daily report.
I’m a subscriber and I’ve been impressed. In most cases, Lerner has been days ahead of Environment Canada in predicting major precipitation events. With these last big rains, World Weather Inc. was predicting significant rainfall when Environment Canada was still forecasting a probability of showers.
Lerner provides a description of where the systems are tracking and what they’re likely to do. With Environment Canada, you get little of the background. Some say it doesn’t matter. The weather is going to happen and as a farmer you just have to adjust. I disagree. Increasing the reliability of seven and 10-day forecasts helps with all kinds of growing season management decisions.
It would be great to have even longer-range forecasts with reasonable accuracy, but I’m not convinced that is possible.
The people who count 90 days after major fogs to predict rainfall events may beg to differ. This year, there were heavy fogs in the late winter that have corresponded to big rains a certain number of days later. However, there are other years when fogs and precipitation events seem largely uncorrelated.
The fog theories are more believable than the Farmers’ Almanac or dissecting pig spleens, but long-range forecasting still seems to be a shot in the dark, whether you’re using science or folklore.
Medium-term forecasts in the seven-to 10-day range have typically had limited reliability too, but the track record for World Weather Inc. is impressive. Perhaps Environment Canada could be providing a similar level of accuracy without a subscription fee if they weren’t so starved for funding and people.
Kevin Hursh is a consulting agrologist and farmer based in Saskatoon. He can be reached at[email protected]