Snow prevents the soil from becoming cracked because it acts as an insulator against the constant freezing and thawing process in winter. Thiessen only needs a few inches of snow to make his land less barren for seeding.
“It’s always nice to have a cover (of snow) on the land. There’s no wind erosion,” said Thiessen. “If it freezes and thaws, freezes and thaws, the soil gets a fractured nature to it and it’s kind of temperamental, the top inch and a half.”
Thiessen’s 5,000 acre family farm land could be planted with any type of crop, such as durum wheat, spring wheat, lentils, barley, flax or canola, depending on the markets and the moisture levels.
“A good inch of rain is worth just as much as probably eight inches of snow because it’s right there and readily available,” said Thiessen. “Snow can melt and run off. You need a lot of snow to make an inch of moisture.”
But on the other hand, Thiessen’s food costs for his 50 cows are down because there is no snow and the cattle can graze on the land. With the exception of one particularly cold week near the end of January, the cattle have been outside grazing.
“In cold weather, they eat more to keep warm. So when the weather’s warm, they go out and browse more and they’re not hanging around the feeders as much,” said Thiessen. “When it warms up to like zero or above zero, the cattle go out and meander.”
Compared to last year’s heavy snowfalls and brutal temperatures, Thiessen said the “feed bill” is a lot lower this year. He estimated feed prices are about half of what they would normally be.
At the end of the day, the weather is the biggest factor for deciding what gets done on the farm.
“We always look west to the sky before we figure out what we’re going to do for the day. If we have a window of opportunity, we go at her,” said Thiessen.
Thiessen may be hoping for a few inches of snow, but in the southeastern part of the province, snow is the last thing on farmers’ minds. While Thiessen was able to seed 99 per cent of his crops last spring, Estevan farmer Terry Mantei wasn’t able to seed any.
“For us down here in the southeast, we had so much water and rain in the spring, it’s actually been a pleasant, uplifting (winter) so far,” said Mantei. “The hay could have taken some winter kill too, but it looks good. It’s been good for the cattlemen and so far we can’t call it off because we had so much moisture last year.”
Mantei, who has 5,000 acres of grains such as wheat, canola and durum and 1,000 acres of hay, said last year the roads were so muddy and washed out that it was almost impossible to get anywhere from his farm for most of the summer. He is hoping it won’t happen two years in a row.
“If we get a good start without the moisture, all we need is the rain. We don’t really need snow right now for our farmland,” continued Mantei. “I’m thinking we still could get a blast of snow yet very easily. That’s what happened last year and it caught us in the spring.”
But on the contrary, too much rain could cause another flood in the area.
“A timely rain will do us as well as snow now. Our rivers are full and all our dugouts and slews down here in the southeast are full,” said Mantei. “It won’t take too much rain for us to be able to pull off a good crop.”
Mantei said the hay and cattle prices are up because of the milder winter. Particularly in the southern parts of the United States, there is a hay shortage because of droughts.
“Some of the people I sold the hay to, their cattle are right out in the fields yet and just going for water, that’s all, not even near the yards,” said Mantei. “That’s a welcome break for them too financially and a chance for them to catch up because last year our cattlemen lost a fair amount of cattle from the storms in the spring.”
Grant McLean, spokesperson for Saskatchewan Agriculture, said the lack of snow cover isn’t a concern for producers in southeastern and eastern Saskatchewan, excluding those that planted winter wheat. He said in western Saskatchewan, conditions were dry going into the winter season and those farmers are concerned about whether there will be moisture.
“With the mild conditions and the minimal snow cover...we may see some damage to the winter wheat crops. That may alter the planting plans of many producers who thought they would plant some of their acres of winter wheat to reduce the planting pressure that they might experience in the spring of 2012,” said McLean.
He added the livestock producers around the province are content with the temperatures and lack of snow because of the decrease in the feeding requirements.
He said particularly farmers in west central Saskatchewan are thinking about how much fertilizer to budget for and what types of crops they might plant if there is no more precipitation.
Based on the weather so far, McLean said it’s hard to be pessimistic about spring farming conditions.
“We do have a very narrow window for seeding crops. That’s always a challenge for most farmers,” he said. “Every enterprise and every business is in a unique situation. It takes significant skills and abilities of producers to...maximize the resources they have at hand.”