Central Alberta crops in a race with Jack Frost
Central Alberta farmers could be nervously watching their thermometers this fall — again.
Harry Brook, a crop specialist at Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Ag-Info Centre in Stettler, said Wednesday that crops are a week to two behind their long-term averages. That increases the likelihood that they’ll still be in the field when cold weather hits.
“By and large, it’s going to be a race with Jack Frost.”
Brook attributes the situation to a late spring and cold weather in July, adding that it’s going to be tough for crops to catch up.
“Our day length is definitely declining, so the number of heat units per day we’re receiving continues to decline. There’s canola out there that’s still flowering.
“We might see some swathing of some of the early crops the last week of August, but I wouldn’t expect to see combines going until September.”
If this situation sounds familiar, that’s because it’s occurred in recent years — with relatively happy endings.
“I think the last three years we’ve had phenomenal Septembers, with really no killing frost until the end of the month or even October 1,” said Brook. “We almost need that again to get this crop basically to the stage of ripening to where it’s bulletproof to frost.”
However, it’s unrealistic to expect balmy Septembers year after year, he warned.
“It’s gambling. If you’re a farmer, I don’t know why the heck you’d ever need to go down to Las Vegas. Just making a living farming is a big gamble with the weather.”
Despite their delayed progress, most crops look pretty good, noted Brook. There has been localized hail damage and some dry pockets, but nothing of a widespread nature.
“They look like they could be phenomenal yields,” said Brook, who rates Alberta’s crops as superior to those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“But it’s not in the bin yet.”
In addition to the weather, the risk of pests remains. Bertha armyworms appear to be on the rise in some canola crops, including in east-Central Alberta.
“I guarantee you there are going to be fields in Central Alberta that will have to be sprayed for berthas or they will lose a significant percentage of the yields,” said Brook.
The wet conditions and high humidity have also provided ideal conditions for leaf diseases that attack cereals.
“There’s probably been a record amount of acres sprayed with fungicide this year.”
While there’s still the potential for a bumper crop in 2013, farmers are unlikely to cash in to the same extent they did in recent years.
The market is already responding to the anticipated high yields, and projections of record harvests in United States corn belt have also pushed the price of feed grains down.
“The price of barley has probably dropped at least a buck a bushel over the last four to six months,” said Brook.
Wheat prices have been affected less, due to a sub-par winter wheat crop in the U.S., he said. Meanwhile, high production levels of soybean there and palm oil in Pacific countries have had a negative impact on canola prices.