Crops in good-to-excellent condition
Most growing seasons begin with boundless optimism — enthusiasm that wanes as young crops encounter climactic and biological adversity.
But with June now nearly behind them, Central Alberta farmers have yet to be given reason for pessimism.
Agriculture Financial Services Corp. (AFSC) and members of the Association of Alberta Agricultural Fieldmen reported this week that most area crops are in good or excellent condition. These ratings applied to 94 per cent of the winter wheat fields surveyed, 97 per cent of the barley and oat crops, 98 per cent of spring wheat, field peas and forage crops, 99 per cent of canola and 100 per cent of durum wheat.
Surface and subsoil moisture was rated at good or excellent for 92 per cent of the fields checked.
“If you were to ask about problems or issues — outside of maybe a little too much moisture in some low areas of fields — I don’t think there’s too many issues to be concerned about at this point in time,” said Mark Cutts, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Ag Info Centre in Stettler.
“Things are looking good.”
In addition to some low-lying plants suffering the effects of excess moisture — which is more prevalent west of Hwy 2, Cutts acknowledged that local crops are slightly behind schedule as a result of cool, damp weather this spring. But he said a few weeks of sun should address these issues.
“A nice stretch of warm weather, I think, would bring everything along very nicely and dry up some of those low spots and allow the crops to maybe catch up.”
Crops are looking healthy throughout Alberta, with moisture levels generally good.
“There may be some pockets where things are maybe getting a little bit dryer than they have been, but I don’t think anybody’s in really bad shape in terms of soil moisture.”
High canola prices prompted many farmers to favour the oilseed crop when planting this year, said Cutts.
“In a couple weeks the countryside is going to be very yellow.”
Wheat was also popular, he said, and given the feed requirements of Central Alberta’s cattle industry, there should also be lots of barley, he said.
Cutts confirmed that the increased canola acres and compressed crop rotations increase the threat of pests and diseases. These include sclerotinia, blackleg and clubroot.
“Clubroot has been slowly but surely moving and kind of stretching out across the province, from that focal point up around Edmonton.”
Earlier this year, he said, some damage was caused by diamondback moths that likely travelled north from the United States — particularly in the southern part of Alberta.
“I think in Central Alberta the crops basically were able to outgrow that damage.”
Otherwise, there has been little evidence of threats to 2012 crops — although Cutts warned that the situation could change quickly and farmers need to monitor their fields closely.
“Just because of the cool, wet conditions, the potential for leaf disease is certainly higher,” he said.
The first cut of hay silage is already coming off and dry hay should follow shortly, said Cutts.
“In the next week or so you’ll start to see guys knocking down hay.”
A perennial threat to Central Alberta crops is hail, and AFSC warns that this year will be no exception. In fact, said Chris Dyck, senior manager of business risk management operations with AFSC, high commodity prices and input costs have raised the stakes for farmers this year.
In 2011, AFSC — which provides the majority of hail insurance to farmers across Alberta on behalf of the provincial government — paid out more than $25.5 million on nearly 1,500 straight hail claims across the province. One of the most damaging hailstorms hit crops between Sundre and Red Deer in early July.
The Hwy 2 corridor between Calgary and Edmonton is known as Hail Alley.
Farmers can access straight hail insurance online at www.afsc.ca, through an AFSC district office or local hail agent, or by contacting the AFSC call centre at 1-877-899-2372. They receive a two per cent premium discount by purchasing online, with policies taking effect at noon the day after they’re purchased.