Canola crops are feeling the heat and farmers are hoping forecasted rain happens this weekend.
(Black Press file photo)THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Central Alberta farmers need rain, and soon

Heat wave followed drier-than-usual May and June

The week-long scorcher has started to take its toll on many central Alberta crops and farmers have fingers crossed that forecasted weekend rain will happen.

“Every day that it stays hot like this is definitely putting a lot more stress on our crops,” said Jim Wood, who grows wheat, barley and canola in the Delburne area.

“Hopefully, that weatherman is correct with his forecast.”

Wood said the extended heat wave and the high night-time temperatures and hot winds that have accompanied can be particularly hard on canola, a key crop for many central Alberta farmers.

“It definitely impacts canola really bad,” said Wood. “They call it a ‘heat blast’ and that flower doesn’t set that day and there is no pod that has any seeds in it.

“Every day, it stays hot like this there will definitely be yield loss.”

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How much impact the heat wave will have varies from farm to farm. Those who had good crops coming in will fare better than those whose crops were not as well advanced.

In some areas of the province crops were already under drought-stress “and there are only so many days they can take a heat like this, especially if the wind is blowing,” he said.

For many, the cooler temperatures and rain expected to begin as early as Friday will make a huge difference.

“If we get the rain as forecast, we will be fine and we will continue to have a really good crop. The story is really going to come into play about a week from now if it doesn’t rain. And then things could go downhill very, very fast.”

Working in farmers’ favour was the earlier good conditions and the fact that the recent dry conditions are not part of a multi-year drought that leaves sub-surface soil dried out.

“Right now, I would say I have an excellent crop that has seen some hot days and will need some rain in the next three or four days or we’ll start to see yield loss.”

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Tim Hoven, who runs Eckville-area Hoven Farms, said he’s seen alfalfa in the area drying out and the heat is also having an impact on hay.

“I’ve talked to people who are haying right now and their yields are expected to be about 33 per cent of what they were last year,” said Hoven, who raises grass-finished organic beef along with some grain farming. “I’m sure we’re going to see lower hay crops this year.”

For alfalfa, the heat causes early blooming and then the plants do not fill out properly.

“I looked at my grain yesterday and I didn’t see any. But just because I couldn’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Two more days of this heat could be pretty tough on the crops.”

There is so much energy in the air from the heat that the rain could come in the form of massive thunderstorms. That could mean hail in some areas, which no farmer ever wants to see.

Cody McIntosh, Red Deer County agricultural services manager, said the heat wave has followed a very dry spring, with both May and June rainfalls well below average.

“We kind of got everything seeded in record time this year, but we were waiting for the rains and now we’re getting the opposite.

“Right now, we’re in desperate need of rain.”

Red Deer County is not alone. Conditions have been dry across the province. The only area to get moisture last week has been the southwest part of the province, where there is not a lot of farming.

“We’re low in moisture and not getting any relief from the heat,” said McIntosh.

“(Forecast rain) could be a real saviour. Time will tell how much damage has been done.

“We need a few good inches of rain,” he said, adding that hopefully it does not come in the form of hail-bearing storms, which are routine occurrences in central Alberta.

“Who knows what these rains are going to bring.”



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