Precipitation has been scarce in recent months and soil moisture reserves are way down.
But it’s too early for farmers to panic, says Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development soil moisture specialist Ralph Wright, who has a battery of maps supporting his appeal for calm.
Some of the agro-climatic materials that Wright’s department maintains do paint a depressing picture.
A map showing accumulated precipitation over the past year, for instance, contains large blotches of light and dark red in the Central Alberta region that indicate precipitation levels at one-in-12 or one-in-25 year lows.
In the case of soil moisture reserves, another map shows the region awash in dark red — suggesting conditions that would only be this severe two years out of every 50.
“That means that you don’t have very much capacity at this time to resist dry weather this spring and summer,” said Wright, acknowledging that spring-seeded crops would be unlikely to germinate in such conditions.
It’s dangerous to generalize, given climatic variations within the region and differing farming practices from field to field, but a pessimist would probably conclude from Wright’s maps that there’s insufficient moisture to support a crop in this region.
He points to reason for optimism in the next set of maps he produces. They show historical precipitation levels on a monthly basis, and in the case of May, June and July all are covered in green and blue, indicating heavy rainfall.
“So your wettest months — May, June and July — are ahead of you,” pointed out Wright.
Not only that, he added, but the situation could be corrected quickly.
The Red Deer region only received about half of the 100 millimetres of precipitation normally expected to fall between October and March — cause for alarm in some people’s minds.
“Guess how much fell just east of you guys (during this week’s storm)? Fifty millimetres in some places.
“So one event was enough to wipe out the winter deficit. You’re one big and not unusual event away from turning that around.”
With seeding still a few weeks away, there’s plenty of time for that event to occur, said Wright.
“All the crops that are still sitting in the seed bins aren’t planted, and none of them are in danger of moisture stress at this point in time, because they’re not in the ground yet.”
Wright referred to another set of maps — these showing annual precipitation levels from 1961 to 1972. There are wild swings between red and blue across Alberta from year to year.
“These maps really prove, in my mind, that you plant and hope — because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”