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Local crops could use more moisture

Mark Cutts’ weather wish isn’t one shared by golfers and others who favour clear skies.

“A rain would be welcome,” said the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development crop specialist.

“It might be nice to have a system come in and just kind of park itself on us for a day.”

Cutts, who works at the department’s Ag Info Centre in Stettler, made his comments on Friday following a couple of dry weeks and some scorching temperatures.

“The crops are using lots of moisture this time of the year,” he said. “Combine that with warm temperatures, and your soil moisture levels can start to drop.”

Alberta Agriculture’s latest crop report said that 68 per cent of the province had sub-surface moisture ratings of good to excellent as of July 15. That was 19 percentage points lower than two weeks earlier.

In Central Alberta, 56 per cent of the land had moisture ratings of good or excellent. That represented a drop of 28 percentage points.

Cutts said crops are at a critical stage in their development, with cereals heading out and flowering plants like canola and peas in bloom.

“Having moisture now is important and it will definitely help with the harvest.”

On a positive note, the extended period of warm weather has allowed crops to catch up after a slow start this spring. It’s also enabled hay farmers to collect much of their first cut without being hampered by precipitation.

Alberta Agriculture’s crop report said that, as of Tuesday, haying in Central Alberta was 25 per cent complete on irrigated land and 42 per cent done on dryland. It added that 90 per cent of the irrigated hay and 81 per cent of the dryland hay was good or excellent.

The report noted that hailstorms have been reported in most regions, with moderate to severe crop damage. Southern and Central Alberta have been hit as hard as anywhere, with moderate damage in Stettler and Lacombe counties.

Cutts said hail is a constant threat at this time of the growing season, but so far no broad storms have hit the region. As crops continue to grow and mature, they’ll become increasingly vulnerable, he said.

As for insects and disease, Cutts wasn’t aware of major problems.

“It’s been fairly quiet,” he said, adding that bertha army worms are a potential threat.

Canola and wheat are again the most common crops in Alberta, with barley and oat acres down.

There has been an increase in pulse crops, especially peas, with fababeans are also on the rise.

Cutts noted that ag commodity prices are lower than they were a years ago. He’s not aware of adverse weather events elsewhere that are impacting global production, but pointed out that this could change quickly.

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