Farmers welcome this week's rain, but concerns remain about this year's crops

‘While it’s very helpful, we’re still very concerned about what the future brings,’ one farmer says.

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Soil moisture is now above normal in many southern Alberta fields following the rain that fell earlier this week, according to the province’s latest moisture situation update.

The major storm brought with it a significant amount of rain to the eastern half of Alberta, from over 100 millimetres in the southeastern part of the province, 30-70 millimetres in parts of central Alberta and 20-40 millimetres in the northeast region, said Wednesday’s report.

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Farmers were eager to get more seeding done before the rain fell across the province this week, with warmer temperatures to follow, according to the Agriculture Financial Services Corp.’s first weekly crop report of the season, released Friday afternoon.

In southern Alberta, 40 per cent of all crops have been seeded so far this year, seven per cent above the five-year average.

“We’re cautiously optimistic I would say at this point,” said the AFSC’s Jesse Cole about this year’s crops. “We got some pretty good rain. This isn’t going to hurt anything. This is excellent.”

With southern Alberta coming into the year with pretty dry soil, surface soil moisture readings have gone up quite a bit, he said.

“We’re not as bad as we were last year at the same time,” said Cole.

Alison Davie, who farms south of Taber, said the 100 millimetres that the farm got this week of rain this was welcome, especially for the hay and winter-seeded crops of winter wheat and fall rye, which were getting “pretty dry.”

“While it’s very helpful, we’re still very concerned about what the future brings,” said Davie, south area director for the Potato Growers of Alberta.

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Moisture is needed throughout the growing season, but this week’s rain at least takes the pressure off the startup of the farm’s hay crop, she said.

moisture update May 8 2024
This map, included in the May 8 moisture situation update, shows precipitation in the past six days in southern Alberta. Government of Alberta

Reduced irrigation allocation means hard decisions for farmers

Davie’s and her husband’s North Paddock Farms receive irrigated water through the St. Mary River Irrigation District, which has set this year’s initial allocation to irrigators at 50 centimetres of water per hectare. That amount, almost half of 2023’s initial allocation, has meant the farm has had to make decisions about what crops to irrigate.

“I knew that was going to really hurt our hay crops, and then our winter crops, we just wouldn’t irrigate — we would have to move some of that water to some of our higher-value crops,” said Davie.

That water allocation is going to have a huge economic impact on her and her husband’s farm, she added.

“We have to focus on the crops that at the end of the day are paying the bills,” said Davie.

High-value crops make up just over half of the farm’s 1,000 hectares, with potatoes on a quarter of the farm’s fields.

“If we’ve got another hot and dry season like we did last year, it’s going to be really, really tough for not just the potatoes but all the crops.”

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Another southern Alberta farmer said the area around his family farm west of Vulcan is an “amazing” shape for moisture. Gary Flitton of Twin Valley Farms said the farm got about 51 millimetres of rain earlier this week and also had some “pretty good” snowfalls.

“Our moisture situation here is the best it’s been in years this spring,” he said. “We’re seeding into moisture on every field. It’s wonderful.”

Twin Valley Farms is about three-quarters done seeding, with a variety of cereals, pulses and oil seeds being put into the ground.

“We need a good crop because prices are down to about two-thirds of what they’ve been,” said Flitton.

About 20 per cent of the farm’s land is irrigated, and the nearby Twin Valley Reservoir was at 82 per cent of capacity as of Thursday.

“Our reservoir is looking really good right now,” he said.

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