Crop yields shrivelling in the heat

“PDQ” is how Alberta Agriculture crop specialist Harry Brook sums up how soon Central Alberta farmers need some decent rainfall.

“PDQ” is how Alberta Agriculture crop specialist Harry Brook sums up how soon Central Alberta farmers need some decent rainfall.

Pretty darn quick is what it stands for and for many producers, some moisture can’t come quick enough.

“Today would be good for rain, tomorrow not as good. The further along we go the worst it’s going to get.”

Continuing hot temperatures with little significant rainfall will likely take a big bite out of yields, if the recent trend doesn’t change.

“We’re approaching the most water consumptive part of the growth cycle,” said Brook from Alberta Agriculture’s Ag Info Centre in Stettler.

Plants use five to eight ml of moisture a day, he said. With half an inch of rain coming in around 12 ml — about what Stettler got in the last few days — it doesn’t go very far, he said.

Central Alberta’s dry conditions are reflected pretty much everywhere else in the province.

Alberta Agriculture’s latest crop report says crop conditions and soil moisture ratings continued to deteriorate at the end of June.

Only 30 per cent of the province’s crops were rated good or excellent, down eight per cent from the previous report.

“These ratings are the lowest experienced since 2009 by a wide margin,” says the report, which covers conditions up to June 29.

Only 21 per cent of the surface soil moisture was rated good or excellent, down eight per cent. The amount rated poor increased 13 per cent, up to 43 per cent.

First-cut haying is underway in all regions except the Peace Country, but early yields and quality are considered poor.

In Central Alberta, 60 per cent of hay pastures are rated poor and surface soil moisture was 44 per cent rated poor.

The lack of good hay has also driven up prices. Hay is going for 12 to 15 cents a pound, compared with three to four cents a pound last winter.

“There’s no way anybody can afford that.”

Brook said many farmers are already looking at taking their crops off early to use as silage because of the poor quality.

Red Deer County councillor and cattleman Philip Massier said neighbours in the Delburne area are expecting a bad year.

“For a number, less than 50 per cent yield this year from where we stand today,” said Massier. “One guy, he doesn’t want to put any more money into the wheat because, what you can do, it’s not even going to make his crop insurance in value.”

Another local farmer is getting less than two bales of hay an acre from four or 4 1/2 bales normally.

Massier said his own pasture land is mostly brown and growing little.

Brook said it’s too early to make yield predictions for the entire central region. Some crops look pretty good, largely because of good soil moisture to start. But those results vary depending on soil type.

But generally more rain is needed everywhere to allow crops to finish before harvest.

“I guess we’ll see, but I’m expecting well below average yields for the province.”