SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (Reuters) - Flooding in the Canadian end of the Red River Valley will be one of the worst ever with average weather, the Manitoba government said Monday in its latest forecast.
The Canadian Wheat Board expects the flood to be significant enough that it may cause farmers in the southern part of the Prairie province to change their minds about what they grow.
A blizzard in the northern states of North Dakota and Minnesota last week worsened the flood projection, with well above average snow now on the ground there, the government said. The Red River runs north from those states into Manitoba.
The flood of the magnitude the Manitoba government expects, similar to one in 1979 but not as serious as the 1997 flood, would leave farmland under water for three weeks, said senior flood forecaster Alf Warkentin. Assuming snow begins melting as usual in early April, farm land should re-emerge by early May, he said.
“A ‘79 flood is more than a flood of inconvenience,” Warkentin said. “It is a serious flood. It would affect a lot of people, a lot of transportation.”
Highway 75, the major link between Winnipeg and North Dakota, will likely close for three week, he said.
A moderate to large flood could delay seeding on 200,000 to 250,000 acres in Manitoba and prompt farmers to plant soybeans, which can be planted late in the spring, instead of wheat, said Bruce Burnett, director of weather and market analysis for the Canadian Wheat Board, which markets Western Canada’s wheat and barley.
When the Red River’s worst flood in a century struck in 1997, Canadian farmers still seeded many of the flooded acres thanks to hot dry conditions in May, Burnett said. Farmers in the Red River valley grow mostly spring wheat, canola and soybeans.
Corn growers on the edges of the Red River valley may also consider soybeans if the flood reaches them, he said.
It’s unclear how much U.S. acreage the swollen Red River will affect, but the valley spans almost 5.5 million acres in North Dakota, said that state’s agriculture department.
The Manitoba government has three sand-bagging machines, two ice-breakers and a stockpile of three million sandbags ready to fight the flood. Twelve years ago, the Canadian Armed Forces helped lay sandbags to protect towns and farms. With favorable weather, calling in the military won’t be necessary, said Don Brennan, acting executive director of the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization.
The U.S. National Weather Service called Friday for major to record flooding in North Dakota.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by David Gregorio