July can be a spiritual month for farmers — with many gazing skyward and praying for rain.
Not this year. A wet spring and ample precipitation thereafter have left most crops in need of clear skies and sunshine.
“You can turn off the tap any time,” said Harry Brook, a field crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Ag Info Centre in Stettler.
“I think most of us, in Central Alberta anyway, we have sufficient moisture that if it didn’t rain again until harvest, we’d probably have a pretty decent crop.”
The wet conditions and high humidity have created ideal conditions for plant diseases like fusarian head blight, and leaf and stripe rust, warned Brook. Some farmers are having a tough time getting into their mucky fields to spray, and the time is fast approaching when it will be too close to harvest to apply chemicals.
The persistent rainfall has been particularly trying for those struggling to get their first cut of hay off.
“You’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Brook. “Every day you wait, your quality in the hay continues to decline. But then if you cut it and leave it sitting in the field, getting it rained on is not doing it any favours either.”
The delay is also jeopardizing the likelihood of getting a good second cut, he added.
Still, the 2011 crop year could still turn out to be a successful one, said Brook.
“It’s looking good, especially with the cereals.”
Canola is a little spottier, he noted, with some pretty good stands in Central Alberta balanced against others that aren’t that great.
Despite the delay in spring seeding, most crops are only a few days behind the long-term average for development.
“Actually, we’ve caught up a fair bit,” said Brook.
“We’re pretty much in the ballpark.”
As for severe weather, Brook noted that there have been “some nasty little hailstorms sweep through,” but nothing widespread. This was confirmed in the Canadian Crop Hail Association report last week, which said the number of claims by Alberta farmers so far this year is below average.
But, cautioned Brook, the figure could increase in a hurry.
“The hail season’s not over yet, not by a long shot.”
But if the hail and rain stay away, the potential for a good crop exists and the ag commodity markets look positive.
“We’ve got good prices, especially in the canola,” said Brook. “As long the weather co-operates and it dries up, it’ll be good.”