Central Alberta farmers have begun harvesting weeks early to get what they can out of dried-out crops.
“The crops are very mature. It was full harvest south of Calgary over the weekend and were going to be a few weeks ahead of schedule here,” said Cody McIntosh, Red Deer County agriculture services manager on Monday.
“I can expect to see more swathing and harvesting this week for sure.”
The lack of winter snow and spring runoff followed by the dry summer means crops have matured early. Even if rain begins to fall it won’t make much difference for most crops.
“The annual crops have done what they’re going to do by this point,” said McIntosh. “Moisture isn’t really going to really help.”
At this point, rain would be more of a hindrance than help.
“You want the harvest to come off without a lot of moisture right now. Let’s get what there is off relatively pain-free but then you want to see a lot of moisture.”
If the rains come in a few weeks, grass, pasture and hay crops will benefit and building up moisture in the ground will be good for all crops next season.
Red Deer County is faring better than many areas of Alberta. While some parts of the county are dry others received more normal levels of rain.
Last week, County of Stettler declared an agricultural emergency. Rocky View and Paintearth Counties have taken similar steps.
This year’s growing season appears to be the third-worst in the last 50 years for relative moisture conditions, the county said in announcing the emergency declaration.
While grain prices remain strong, yields are expected to be down as much as 40 per cent. Hay crops yields are also 20 to 40 per cent of average.
Poor hay crops and burnt pasture will be hard on cattle producers.
“That’s going to be a big problem for anybody trying to feed their cattle because the feed just isn’t going to be there because it is in really high demand.
“It’s not just Alberta that needs the feed. It’s all of the Prairies, it’s all of the Midwest states.”
Ponoka County manager of agriculture services Justin Babcock said the county has had a few more timely rains than its neighbour, although it has been drier than normal.
“We are definitely dry. You can see it in our sloughs which are drying up but somehow our crops have held on for the most part it seems like,” he said.
“There’s probably going to be some yield loss, but we’re going to have a crop which is better than some people will have.”
Harvest has begun because crops are stressed and are reaching the harvest stage earlier than usual.
“I’ve seen some guys on barley and peas and stuff like that I saw my first canola being swathed down. We’re going to be in full motion pretty soon I think.”
Babcock agrees rain at this stage would offer little help for most.
“I was looking at my own crops and the way the stems are looking it’s so dry I don’t think rain would make any difference at this point,” said Babcock, who is growing canola in the Bashaw area.
On Sunday, the federal government announced it will boost its AgriRecovery funding to $500 million, including $100 million announced on Aug. 6. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is sharing Agri-Recovery costs on a 60/40 basis with B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
To help farmers get financial help earlier the AgriStability interim benefit payment was boosted to 75 per cent from 50 per cent.
Livestock producers in drought-hit areas are also eligible for a tax deferral on revenue generated by selling off breeding stock.