Alta. farm­ers grap­ple with late-sum­mer snow

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Aleksandra Sa­gan

Some Al­berta farm­ers are con­cerned about their crops after a late-sum­mer snow­fall blan­keted parts of the prov­ince, with more flur­ries ex­pected in the fore­cast.

Early sea­son snow can squash crops that grow upright, like wheat and bar­ley, make them harder to har­vest and dec­i­mate their qual­ity, leav­ing farm­ers with a less valu­able prod­uct.

Greg Sears has been grow­ing canola, wheat, bar­ley and peas just north of Grande Prairie for about a decade and re­cently had about 15 cen­time­tres of snow cov­ered his crops, push­ing down his ce­real and canola and freez­ing any­thing that wasn‘t fully ma­ture yet.

“It’s just go­ing to be a long, slow har­vest from here on in — even if we do get some re­ally nice weather,” he said.

The area needs warm, windy weather to dry the crop, Sears said, adding the cur­rent ground con­di­tions will make it hard to get equip­ment on the land.

That dif­fi­cult har­vest comes after wild­fires in B.C. ear­lier this year cre­ated ad­di­tional pres­sure with the drift­ing smoke slow­ing down the crop de­vel­op­ment, he said.

The neigh­bour­ing prov­ince saw thou­sands of square kilo­me­tres of wood­land charred by more than 2,000 wild­fires since April, ac­cord­ing to the BC Wild­fire Ser­vice.

In ad­di­tion to slow­ing the har­vest, the snow likely de­te­ri­o­rated the crop qual­ity.

Sears hoped his bar­ley would go to a malt beer brew­ing mar­ket, but now ex­pects it’ll land else­where for a lower price. He an­tic­i­pates about $100 an acre less in rev­enue.

His wheat will likely fall from milling-grade, which is for hu­man con­sump­tion, to an­i­mal-feed qual­ity, he said. The pea crop will suf­fer on two fronts, he said, ex­pect­ing a qual­ity and yield re­duc­tion.

“It’s not unusual, but it’s not com­mon” to see this type of weather in September, said Kevin Ben­der, chair­man of the Al­berta Wheat Com­mis­sion, an in­dus­try group work­ing to boost Al­berta wheat’s pro­file.

He’s farmed pri­mar­ily wheat and canola, as well as bar­ley, oats, peas and some other crops for about three decades near the town of Bent­ley, north of Red Deer.

“We’re still white here now,” he said of the re­sults of Wed­nes­day evening’s snow­fall.

He, too, will have to wait for the snow to melt and dry be­fore har­vest­ing.

It’s likely the crops have fallen, which will make har­vest­ing more dif­fi­cult, he said, and an ex­tended ex­po­sure to heavy, wet snow or rain can de­te­ri­o­rate the qual­ity to be suitable for an­i­mal feed rather than hu­man con­sump­tion.

The price dif­fer­ence de­pends on how much of each type is avail­able, Ben­der said. If weather neg­a­tively im­pacts a lot of the Prairies and there’s a plethora of feed-qual­ity wheat, he said the gap in price could be as big as be­tween 30 and 40 per cent.

Ben­der drove around the area Fri­day and said he saw the ma­jor­ity of crops are still rel­a­tively upright with a few lean­ing over, so there’s still good po­ten­tial they’ll qual­ify for the hu­man-con­sump­tion mar­ket.

For some farm­ers, the snow pro­vided a lit­tle re­lief.

Gord Visser has been grow­ing pota­toes in Stur­geon County, just north of Ed­mon­ton, for decades.

He spent some sleep­less nights re­cently wor­ry­ing that im­pend­ing frost could de­stroy a large chunk of his cur­rent crop, but the snow pro­vided a blan­ket to in­su­late his spuds from the cold.

Still, the weather de­layed how soon he could har­vest his 500 acres by about a week, he said, be­cause it’s too muddy to work. He’s still got 60 per cent of the crop left to bring in and typ­i­cally aims to be fin­ished by the end of September.

Now, it looks like the har­vest won’t be done un­til Oc­to­ber, when the risk for colder weather is higher.

“As you get fur­ther into the fall,” he said, “there’s more threat of an­other weather event com­ing.”

Weather wor­ries are par for the course for farm­ers, said Ben­der.

“We know that weather changes and one year is go­ing to be com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the next,” he said. “So we just have to be pre­pared, and we are. We adapt rel­a­tively well to it.”

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