For farmers with short memories, this year’s crop was a bad one.
Those with a longer perspective probably weren’t as disappointed.
Statistics Canada has calculated that production of the principal field crops in Alberta fell 25 per cent in 2009. But it was only six per cent below the 10-year average for the province — with spring and durum wheat, canola and dry peas all exceeding the longer term average.
Last year was also a record one for principal crop production.
Chuanliang Su, a crops statistician with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, said the cool, dry spring and subsequent adverse growing conditions hurt yields and resulted in fewer acres being harvested.
“Total seeded area for principal field crops in the province was virtually unchanged from 2008, while harvested area fell about 10 per cent, largely due to crops being salvaged for forage production and used for grazing,” said Su.
In the case of spring wheat, production was down 15 per cent from 2008 but seven per cent higher than the average for the last decade. Durum wheat was eight per cent lower than in 2008 but 17 per cent above the long-term average.
Alberta’s canola crop declined 27 per cent from 2008, but was up 14 per cent over the 10-year average.
The output of dry peas this year was nine per cent lower than in 2008, but 22 per cent higher than the average for the decade.
The year-over-year output of barley fell 29 per cent, with the 2009 crop 21 per cent lower than the multi-year average.
It was a particularly poor year for oats, with 2009 production 43 per cent lower than in 2008 and off 54 per cent from the 10-year average. More than half of this year’s crop was taken off for forage production, according to Alberta Agriculture.
Tame hay yields were 43 per cent lower than in 2008, and 23 per cent below the long-term average for the province.
Production numbers were not available on a regional basis, but Harry Brook, a crop specialist at Alberta Agriculture’s Ag-Info Centre in Stettler, said Central Alberta followed the provincial trends.
“The further east you go, the more you fall off. East-central would have been one of the hardest hit areas, probably in the entire province.”
He confirmed that many crops were taken off early as green feed, including canola.
“The outlook just looked so dismal, moisture-wise, and the cattle producers were so short of feed, that a lot of canola went into the feed end.”
Still, things could have been worse. Brook said he was surprised by how high yields were throughout the region given the lack of timely precipitation.
“I think it was because we had such a cool summer,” he said, explaining that plants’ moisture requirements were lower than they would have been in hotter conditions.
A lingering concern is that the late harvest resulted in many canola crops being taken off with high moisture contents. Brook said he’s heard of levels as high as 18 per cent.
“We just got a call today; some guy’s got his canola in the bin at 14 1/2 per cent and his auger won’t take it out.
“It’s frozen solid.”
He said it’s critical that farmers ensure wet canola is dealt with before temperatures rise.
“You’re going to have it rotting and heating from the outside, which will then cause a massive chain reaction of rotting the whole thing. You’ve got to get it out and dried before springtime comes.”
Looking ahead, Brook expressed concern that input costs like fertilizer remain high while ag commodity prices are relatively low.
“It doesn’t look like there’s a whole bunch of up-side potential for the next six to nine months.”
But, he added, a lot can change between now and next fall.
“I’m hoping it’s a good year.”