Michael Dawe: Ideal conditions delivered bounty to region’s farmers

Michael Dawe: Ideal conditions delivered bounty to region’s farmers

Farmers face so many challenges in making a living

Another central Alberta harvest is well underway. Many experts are predicting good crops if heavy frosts and snow hold off.

Since agriculture is such an important part of central Alberta’s economy, this should make for a better year for the whole region, as well as for the local farmers.

Farmers face so many challenges in making a living that one often wonders how they are able to continue at all. They can face sudden changes to the weather, such as hail, frost and snow that can quickly ruin a promising crop.

On the other hand, many times when the harvest goes well, prices go down, leaving the farmers barely ahead financially.

Still, a good crop year remains something to celebrate.

A very good harvest came a little more than a half century ago, in 1967. It was already a memorable year.

Canada was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Confederation. There were celebrations and special centennial projects in virtually every community in the nation. Many have said that Canada never seemed as united and optimistic about the future as it was in 1967.

For the farmers of central Alberta, the growing season did not have a particularly promising start. Spring was very late in arriving. There were heavy frosts well into May.

Consequently, a great many farmers were still pushing to get their crops planted well past the middle of the month.

The official crop forecasts indicated that with the growing season starting three or more weeks late, farmers would need a warm summer and a long dry fall if there was to be any hopes of having a reasonable harvest.

June was relatively cool, but there was lots and lots of moisture, which helped with seed germination. There was no local frost during the entire month.

Things turned much warmer and drier in July, with temperatures rising to above normal levels. Some people even began to worry about the possibility of a mid-summer’s drought. However, there was a lot of rain from July 19 to 21. This gave the local crops a welcome boost of renewed moisture, just as the grain was starting to head out.

The weather turned hot and dry in August. The annual Red Deer Exhibition at the beginning of the month was a smashing success. An all-time attendance record (67,000) was set as people flocked to take in the various attractions and entertainments.

Days above 30 C were common by the middle of the month. That meant that the crops began to mature much earlier than the farmers had expected. By the end of August, the harvest was well underway, something which most farmers had not dreamed of back in the cold, late spring.

The hot, dry weather continued into September. On Sept. 1, the weather office at the Red Deer Airport reported a record-breaking 35 C.

Temperatures cooled somewhat after that, but generally remained warm and dry. There was no frost until Sept. 22. There was less than four millimetres of rainfall recorded during the whole month.

The Red Deer Advocate was full of stories of farmers pushing as hard as they could with the harvest. Many ran their combines through the night as there was little or no nighttime dew.

With all of the vagaries of Alberta weather, no one was willing to gamble that the perfect harvest weather would last indefinitely.

The best news was that both the quality and quantity of the crops coming off in the region were excellent. It was quickly becoming obvious that central Alberta was enjoying one of the best bumper crops in a half century.

Alberta weather being the way that it is, conditions suddenly changed on Oct. 3. A cold, wet front blew in. The weather office reported that more than 16 centimetres of wet snow fell, with accumulations of more than eight centimetres on the ground in most areas.

Fortunately, this had little effect on central Alberta’s farmers. The harvest was nearly complete. Warm, dry conditions returned by Thanksgiving. Most of the remaining work was quickly finished up.

Hence, while Canada celebrated a wonderful centennial year in 1967, central Alberta’s farmers enjoyed one of the best harvest years ever.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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