Cool summer, wet fall challenging farmers’ harvest timbetables

Farmers would love to see several weeks of warm, windy weather

Sylvan Lake-area farmer Mike Ammeter has compared farming to a high-wire act.

“But this year, the wire seems a little bit higher, the net is a little smaller, and it’s windy,” he said with a chuckle.

A cool summer slowed crop growth, meaning many have still not fully matured although yields look promising. The wet late summer isn’t helping the harvest timetable.

“It’s still there,” Ammeter said of yields, “but we’ve already gone through two-thirds of September, and harvest is going, but it’s not off to a rip-roarin’ start here.

“It’ll be an October harvest.”

Despite the challenges, it is a better picture than last year, when snow had already fallen and continued to fall on and off for weeks.

“I was telling somebody this morning: I can deal with this. Just don’t snow and don’t freeze yet. It’d be nice to get another 10 days without a frost. That would get us to the end of September and probably do it.

“If we got a hard frost now, that would be trouble.”

So far, a killing frost — which has happened as early as late August in some years — has yet to appear, which buys more time for farmers.

Many crops were looking good for much of the summer. But to realize that potential, some sun, heat and wind would be a big help.

Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Stettler’s Alberta Ag Info Centre, said only about 10 per cent of crops are off in central Alberta.

“There are a lot of crops that still need a week, 10 days to two weeks, to mature. And that’s the real kicker: how long do you wait?

“This is a better year than last year for sure.”

The lack of wind, warmth and sun is holding harvest back.

“It’s coming in slow. Mostly, what has been coming off is peas. A little bit of barley has come off. Maybe, an occasional field of wheat — but that’s about it.

“(Crops) are looking good. If we can get them off and into the bin in good condition, it’s going to be a fairly good year.

“We need a killing frost to stay away until the end of September. At that point, most of the crops will be safe.”

If conditions improve, Brook is predicting a good crop

“I’m saying fairly good instead of fabulous because prices suck.”

Contributing to lower returns are a number of ongoing trade disputes. China’s ban on canola cut off the source of 40 per cent of Canadian sales. Other disputes are also having an impact — peas and lentil exports to India and durum wheat, for instance.

Jeff Nielsen, who farms wheat, canola and barley just southeast of Olds, agrees a few weeks of sun and wind would go a long way.

“It’s been a draggy fall so far.

“I have yet to start cutting my canola. I’m going to try today to see if it’s mature enough to cut. The wheat in the area is a little too green even for pre-harvest.”

He got a start on barley, but it wasn’t as dry as he would like.

But he only has to think back to this time last year, when his fields were white, to put this fall into perspective and keep optimism alive.

“That’s what keeps us going,” he said with a laugh.

The lack of a killing frost is encouraging.

“That’s been a blessing, to be honest,” he said. “In my area, there’s a lot of green canola. A killing frost would do some serious damage.”

Overall, he said crop yields are in line to be average to above average.

“Hopefully, this weather pattern smartens up and we can get back (to harvesting).”

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