As the unusually dry spring drags on concerns are rising about a forage shortage come fall.
“Pastures and hayland are just not doing much,” said Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development crop specialist Harry Brook.
Dry conditions mess with the growth patterns of forage plants leaving them smaller and less productive.
“That’s going to be a real concern for most producers. (Cattle) pasture on grass, but the grasses aren’t growing.
“In fact, a lot of pastures look like crispy critters. They are brown and crunchy. There’s not a lot of food nutrition there.
“That’s probably the biggest concern at the moment.”
Most of the other crops are doing OK, but not great, he said. The next few weeks will be important for cereal crops like wheat, barley and oats, which establish their yield potential relatively early.
The critical four- to six-week growth period has just begun “so the need for moisture is rapidly approaching.”
Working in farmers’ favour is that the weather has not been overly hot, so the amount of moisture lost has been limited.
While there has been rain in Central Alberta over the last few days it’s been “extremely spotty,” he said.
“There have been isolated showers, which isn’t generally going to help the area. It just helps individuals if they happen to be parked under the cloud.”
Besides the weather issues, there have been some reports of pests such as flea beetles, which damage canola crops. Pea leaf weevils have also shown up, a pest that plagues pea plants.
Summing up, Brook said, “Everybody needs rain. But there is nothing showing moisture stress. The only things showing moisture stress would be the pasture and hayland.”
“But it does indicate that we night have potential for a feed shortage next winter because a lot of producers rely on that grass and hay to feed their cattle over the winter.
“It’s only a potential at the moment.”
In a couple of weeks, a much clearer picture of this year’s crop prospects will be available, he said.
Dave Hoar, whose family farms and raises cows east of Innisfail, said their grain crops are doing all right.
“They’ve got adequate moisture to get started, but of course they need some rain.
“The hay crops and pastures — certainly in this area — are starting to look pretty tough and we need some rain right away.
“We won’t get good yields. We won’t get bumper yields by any means. Even if we get rain tonight they’ve been damaged.”
But if a good rain falls into the next week or two “it’s amazing to see what might happen,” he said.
Should the current conditions turn into a feed shortage that could cause problems for producers who have been building up their beef herds to take advantage of good pricing.
In the County of Stettler, where the Nixon family farm, conditions are similar.
“We could sure use the rain, of course,” said Wayne Nixon, the county’s reeve, who is semi-retired by still helps his sons farm.
“The crops that are up are OK,” he said, adding wheat and barley are looking good.
Canola is further behind and some farmers are facing flea beetle issues and are spraying, especially south and east of Donalda.
“That sort of compounds things (for canola growers),” he said.
Nixon expects feed will become an issue this fall if conditions persist.
But as every farmer knows “ a good rain will change everything.”