This year’s dry conditions have many making comparisons to the disastrous summer of 2002.
However, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development crop specialist Doon Pauly is not expecting the same level of crisis among producers this time around.
“It’s not quite the same as 2002,” said Pauly from the Ag-Info Centre in Stettler. “I think 2002 definitely prepared people for this happening in the future.”
More farmers have other feed available or have acted more quickly this time to either reduce their herds or move cattle to better grazing lands.
Market forces that have reduced beef prices and BSE have also played a role in reducing the impact because herds are now smaller than they once were.
Pauly said there is not the same sense of panic in the industry as there was a few years ago. However, that is not to say the industry is not facing a daunting challenge.
“I think we’re very much at a critical point,” he said. “We’re at the very end of where things can turn around dramatically.”
Rain — and a lot of it — is needed to give crops a boost to make up for the dry spring.
Pauly said in the typically hotter weeks in July, crops can use six to eight mm of water per day. That means an inch of rain, 25 mm, only provides enough moisture to last four or five days.
“Generally, we’re three inches of moisture behind normal if not more,” he said from the Ag Info Centre in Stettler. “The crop has done without that already.
“We realistically need six to seven inches of rain by the beginning of August. It’s not just a little bit of rain that’s needed.”
June is usually a fairly wet month, but this year little rain has fallen in Central Alberta. The rest of the province has also seen little moisture with a few exceptions. Lloydminister and the area to the north recently got a few much-needed showers.
“Other than that, it’s pretty bleak.”
Despite Monday night’s deluge in Red Deer, which generated severe thunderstorm warnings and watches, the long-term precipitation picture isn’t pretty for Central Alberta farmers.
Environment Canada meteorologist Ralph Bigio said a few thunderstorms came off the Foothills and dumped rain from Nordegg to Ponoka before hitting Red Deer. This week’s forecast also calls for a risk of precipitation ranging from 30 to 60 per cent from Tuesday evening on.
However, the kinds of big, widespread rain dumps farmers need are not expected over the next two weeks.
“It will just be these showers for the short-term future. I don’t think I see anything in the next 10 days that will bring any respite.
“The showers going through probably won’t produce more than a few mm of rain.”
The final numbers aren’t in for Red Deer yet, but many might be surprised that precipitation was about average before Monday’s storm. The average rainfall is 92 mm and 81.6 mm had been recorded by Sunday. More than half of that — 45 mm — fell in one brief June 15 storm though.