Ahead of the game

A glimmer of optimism is spreading across the fields as sunny weather mixed with rain coaxes new crops out of the ground.

A glimmer of optimism is spreading across the fields as sunny weather mixed with rain coaxes new crops out of the ground.

Crops seeded in late April and early May are starting to emerge while farmers are going full bore to finish planting, Harry Brook, crop specialist for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, said Tuesday.

Brook estimated 50 to 70 per cent of seeding is complete in the Central region, including most of the canola and wheat. Farmers are working on their barley, oats and other crops.

“We’re probably at the long-term average as far as getting things done,” said Brook.

“It’s been close to ideal conditions, actually.”

Thanks to stormy weather during the weekend, moisture conditions are generally good right across the province, including the Peace River Country, where farmers had not seen any precipitation since early March, he said.

“It’s probably one of the best starts we’ve have for the crop year for quite some time, but we’ll still need moisture throughout the growing season to get that crop to mature. It’s starting well — that’s great. But even with five to six inches of moisture here, it’s not going to last until harvest,” he said.

There isn’t a farmer around who wants to see a repeat of what happened last spring, said Brook. Annually-seeded crops got a dismal start in 2009 with dry, cold conditions in spring and no significant moisture until July.

While annual crops recovered fairly well later on in the growing season, hay and pastures had been set back too badly by the time a little rain finally fell.

Beef producer Rose Wymenga, who farms east of Rocky Mountain House, said her hay fields and pastures need every bit of moisture they can get this year to recover from the beating they took last year.

Large numbers of farmers had chosen to sell off their cattle because hay and pastures had become so sparse, said Wymenga. Those producers who have kept their cows are entering the 2010 growing season with no stockpiles of hay and with badly stressed pastures that have been eaten to the roots.

“They’re coming slow, but they are coming. Some hot weather and some more moisture would just do a tremendous amount for them,” she said.

“It’s a restoration time now. I think a lot of people chose to sell cows or chose some other form of feed. We feed a lot of barley and straw. We do have some hay and it’s not bad stuff, but there was just never enough of it.”

Brook said there could be some risk of frost damage on crops that have now emerged. However, in a spring like the region has had so far, when conditions have been fairly cool, new crops can adapt somewhat to frost conditions, he said.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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