Central Alberta remains very dry and 43 per cent of pasture land is rated poor. (Advocate file photo)

Farmers need rain — and soon

Conditions extremely dry in much of central Alberta

Persistent dry conditions through May and into June has farmers hoping for a repeat of last year’s last-minute reprieve.

The Alberta Crop Report released Friday said the central and south regions and portions of the Peace Region, and northeast and northwest Alberta are experiencing drier-than-normal conditions.

“Most annual crops are so far withstanding the dry conditions reasonably well with some cases of uneven germination reported due to lack of moisture,” says the report from Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation and Agriculture Financial Services Corporation. Next week’s report will have the first crop condition ratings.

In Central Region, there were a few showers and some hail across the western edge, but little most counties have seen only localized rainfall. Hot, dry, windy conditions have been the more common experience.

Sub-surface moisture levels below six inches are 43 per cent and 38 per cent fair. Only 19 per cent is rated good, with none excellent or excessive.

Pasture is also suffering with 34 per cent rated poor and 34 per cent fair. Only 32 per cent are rated good with none rated excellent.

“It’s extremely dry. It’s to the critical point,” said Brenda Knight, who has a cow-calf operation near Alix.

She recently visited a young farm family whose crops is already in danger. “They feel they’re 10 days away from it being a total wreck.”

A lot of pasture in the area has been grazed and without any rain soon there will be no regrowth.

A recent auction where there was a run on cow-calf pairs shows that cattle producers are already worried there will not be enough feed for their herds, she said.

“Cow-calf pairs should not be going to market at this time of year already.”

Knight said on her farm, the silage has been hit and miss. “It’s probably not going to produce anything.”

Insurance helps but does not make up all losses.

“We are in a very bad cycle and, honestly, some folks are not going to survive it. That’s what I see long-term, and long-term will probably be September.”

Red Deer County agricultural services manager Cody McIntosh said the county is extremely dry. A recent moisture report he received said moisture reserves were at the one in 25- to 50-year range.

“In this area, we’re used to getting above-average moisture compared to the rest of the province. We’ve got some black soils with lots of organic matter that take in a lot of water and produces some incredible crops.”

But moisture levels are far below normal. And worse, it’s the third year in a row that it’s been dry.

“Last year, we got some pretty timely rain at the end of June and beginning of July that helped us recover.

“We were in much the same boat (last year) and we were saved in about the 11th hour with some moisture in July. We definitely don’t want to wait that long.”

June and July typically produce some moisture and farmers are hoping the pattern is repeated soon.

What rain has fallen has been in the form of showers, that provide relief in one spot but leave others dry.

“We could use a good half an inch a week to get caught up,” he said. “We’re down inches of rain right now.”

Exacerbating the lack of moisture has been the heat, which dries out soil faster. The heat is also affecting the overnight dew that often gives crops a little bit of moisture. There has been little dew lately.

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