Agriculture Provincial

‘Dry and fried’ crops across province wither under heat

A field of canola glows in the setting sun on Poundmaker Road on July 10, 2015. Alberta’s hot and dry weather this summer has meant farmers of canola and other crops are facing low yields because of the damage to plants.BRYAN YOUNG/St. Albert Gazette

By Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

ST ALBERT – After a heat dome torched most of western Canada, the majority of crops in Alberta aren’t in good condition, according to a recent crop report.

Extreme heat shattered provincial records across the prairies and farmers and producers are left picking up the pieces after what started off as a bumper crop year.

Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said he expects agricultural emergencies to be declared in the next few weeks across the province due to the damage the heat has caused.

In southern Alberta, producers went weeks without rain and had high temperatures scorching the earth.

“You’re gonna have these huge crop losses,” McLauchlin said.

“This is drought and heat.”

According to the Alberta crop report, only 18.1 per cent of all crop sin the Peace region of the province are in good or excellent condition, followed by 26.9 per cent in the north west, 33.4 per cent in the south and 34.6 per cent in the north east. The central region is faring the best with 59.4 per cent of all crops in good to excellent conditions.

These numbers are in stark contrast to the usual conditions the province sees, with the 10 year average for crops to be in good or excellent condition sitting at 73.4 per cent.

“The year over year precipitation deficits now exceed one in 50 year lows in some areas,” the report said.

Pasture growth is also dismal, with 34.6 per cent of the pasture in the province in poor condition., compared to the 10 year average of only 12.4 per cent being in poor condition.

Only 0.5 per cent of all pasture across the province is in excellent condition, both the north west and Peace region bringing down the average, with both clocking in at zero per cent, which is compared to the 10 year average of 19 per cent in excellent condition.

Ward Toma, general manager for the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, said it was hot and dry in the wrong time for producers.

“We haven’t seen hot temperatures like this in a long time,” Toma said.

In 2002 the industry had another tough year, and it was cold and dry, resulting in low yields.

But this year temperatures broke records and hit almost 40 C across the province, which dried and fried the canola.

“Everything was damaged by it. Normally we have our hottest days of the year the first two weeks of July, right when the canola is flowering and it always impacts a little bit if it gets over 30 degrees,” Toma said.

Toma said the stress of this year is piled on top of the stress from the pandemic and is worried about the mental health of producers.

“This just adds to the stress because there’s absolutely nothing you can do about this. You’re watching your crop burn away,” Toma said.

This year was expected to produce a very good crop and at the beginning of the year things were looking good for producers.

“And then it got fried and that is mentally very hard,” Toma said, who represents the roughly 13,000 canola producers in the province.

“That is a hard thing to handle mental health wise,” Toma said, adding he encourages farmers to reach out and get support if they need it

In July the province announced help was on the way for farmers facing low crop yields because of the drought.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews, who is also a rancher, said the province is facing a drought that is impacting crops across the province.

“We’re seeing a very significant drought, certainly in key parts of the province, and in a larger part of the province than we normally would,” Toews said.

Devin Dreeshen, minister of Agriculture and Forestry, released a statement on Thursday assuring producers across the province that they understand the severity of the “prolonged period of extreme dry weather.”

Dreeshen said the province is doing everything to ensure producers get the support they need.

Crop assessors have been directed to start work immediately to allow farmers some certainty when making insurance claims.

“(It’s) so that any value in crop residue can be salvaged, whether that’s through grazing cattle or putting it up as feed, and that assessment needs to be done on a timely basis,” Toews said.

The province is working with the feds through the details of the AgriRecivery program, which is a cost sharing program that provides emergency support in cases of mother nature ruining crops. The federal government pays 60 per cent of the cost while provinces kick in the rest.

By Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/St Albert Gazette