Rain stalls harvest

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From record dry to record wet, says province

By Kevin Ma

Where was all this rain two months ago?

That’s what many farmers are likely asking themselves this month after weeks of rain-soaked fields kept them from harvesting crops.

Frequent rains this month have kept farmers out of their fields, delaying the completion of this year’s harvest.

Sturgeon County got about 40 to 60 mm of rain this month, or significantly more than the 34 to 40 it would usually receive, said Alberta Agriculture soil moisture technician Ralph Wright. That’s a one-in-six-or-12-year high for September, and a big change from this summer, which saw the county endure its driest growing season on record.

“We see this a lot, where we have these abrupt shuffles in weather patterns.”

Sturgeon County isn’t super wet yet, Wright notes – a really wet September (a 1-in-20-year high) would involve about 100 mm of rain. Parts of southern Alberta have gone from 1-in-50 year lows to 1-in-50 year highs in terms of precipitation as of this month.

Crops have to be dry to be harvested, and all this rain has meant wet crops, said crop statistician Ashan Shooshtarian of Alberta Agriculture. Most Alberta farmers are now about six per cent behind schedule compared to last year when it comes to the harvest. About 46 per cent of the province’s crops have been collected at this point, compared to about 52 per cent last year.

There’s definitely still a lot of grain out there to be collected, said Sturgeon County farmer Wayne Groot.

“The showers seem to be all over the place,” he continued, with some farms delayed because of them and others not.

Groot said that his farm was probably slightly behind schedule at this point compared to past harvests – he was all done at this time last year. He predicts that many farmers will be in the fields until about mid-October.

Farmer André Montpetit of Sturgeon Valley Fertilizer estimated that farmers were about 75 to 80 per cent done harvesting for the year.

“If we have a week of nice weather, people will be pretty much wrapped up.”

The rain is a big problem for anyone who has grain swathed in the field, as you want the seeds to dry before you collect them, Montpetit said. Rain actually helps canola, though, as it helps the seed mature faster.

The rain is also a psychological boost to farmers, as it locks in moisture for next year, Montpetit said. It’s also helped his business at Sturgeon Valley Fertilizer; now that it’s wet, farmers are starting to do their fall fertilizer applications again.

“It was a true godsend,” he said of the rain.

Alberta Agriculture’s most recent crop report suggests that this year’s crop is pretty average in terms of quality, with about 75 per cent of spring wheat and 77 per cent of peas grading No. 1 in terms of quality in the Edmonton region. Some areas were reporting grain sprouting due to moisture, however, which could affect crop quality.

Morinville-area farmer Ward Middleton said some of his oats had that problem, as he swathed them just before it rained. By the time he collected the crop, it had started to sprout, downgrading it from bran-level quality to animal feed. The stuff he collected in late August before the rains was “fabulous” quality, he added.

Agriculture.alberta.ca has the latest crop and crop weather reports for Alberta.

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About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.