Al­berta farm­ers race to bring in $3B of un­har­vested crops

Com­bines have sat idle For weeks due to un­usu­ally wet, cold and snowy Fall

Calgary Herald - - NEWS - AMANDA STEPHEN­SON

Cloud­less skies and warm tem­per­a­tures are bring­ing a mea­sure of hope to Al­berta farm­ers, as they race against the clock to har­vest $3 bil­lion worth of crops still in the fields.

An un­usu­ally wet, cold and snowy fall has sig­nif­i­cantly slowed or even halted the progress of the 2018 har­vest, which — if weather con­di­tions were nor­mal — would be wrap­ping up about now. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the Al­berta govern­ment’s most re­cent crop re­port, less than 50 per cent of the prov­ince’s seeded acres had been har­vested as of Oct. 9.

In many re­gions, com­bines have sat idle for more than 40 days — an “un­prece­dented” sit­u­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to farm groups. Snow has flat­tened stand­ing crops in some ar­eas, while in other re­gions crops are frozen and shriv­elled.

“We sat from about Septem­ber 5 to Thanks­giv­ing week­end. That was a very long break to take,” said Han­nah Kon­schuh, who farms east of Cal­gary near Cluny and sits on the board of the Al­berta Wheat Com­mis­sion. “I have never seen a fall like this in my farm­ing ca­reer and nei­ther has my dad, who’s been farm­ing a lot longer than I have.”

Two ru­ral coun­ties, Stet­tler and Lac St. Anne, have al­ready de­clared states of agri­cul­tural dis­as­ter. While pro­duc­ers have not yet re­quested fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from the govern­ment, farm groups spoke with Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Oneil Car­lier and other pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials last Fri­day to in­form them of the “dire” sit­u­a­tion.

Ja­son Lenz — chair of Al­berta Bar­ley and a farmer in the Bent­ley area, north of Syl­van Lake — said the sit­u­a­tion this year is much more se­vere than 2016, the last time an early snow­fall in­ter­rupted har­vest and left a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of acres un­har­vested over the win­ter months. He said farm groups are ask­ing the govern­ment to be pre­pared to ex­pe­dite crop in­sur­ance claims this time around.

“In 2016, we had that dif­fi­cult fall har­vest and then when spring 2017 came around, there weren’t enough ad­justers avail­able to get out to the fields. Farm­ers were de­layed in get­ting out seed­ing in some cases, be­cause they couldn’t get an ad­juster there,” Lenz said.

This week has brought im­proved weather con­di­tions to most parts of the prov­ince, and if the weather holds un­til the end of the month, it could go a long way to­ward get­ting the ma­jor­ity of the crop off. But even if farm­ers are able to fin­ish har­vest­ing be­fore win­ter sets in for good, Lenz said crop in­sur­ance claims are likely to be sig­nif­i­cantly higher than nor­mal.

Yields and qual­ity across the prov­ince have been af­fected, not just by the snow but also by dry con­di­tions in July and the for­est fire smoke in Au­gust that ob­scured the sun and in­hib­ited plant growth.

“The ma­jor­ity of the wheat that comes off now will be down­graded to feed qual­ity, so that’s a se­vere hit fi­nan­cially,” Lenz said.

The Agri­cul­ture Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Corp., which pro­vides pro­duc­ers with crop in­sur­ance, is pre­pared to re­spond to what­ever the out­come of this year’s har­vest may be, said Car­lier. He added he has asked the Crown cor­po­ra­tion to be ready to “stream­line” its pro­cesses if nec­es­sary.

How­ever, Car­lier said the weather fore­cast has him in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent that the 2018 har­vest can be sal­vaged.

“Some places are go­ing to see (tem­per­a­tures) in the low to mid20s. It’s go­ing to help a lot,” he said. “Sev­eral weeks ago it looked grim, but I think things are look­ing up.”

LEAH HEN­NEL/FILES

A storm rolls in dur­ing har­vest time in south­ern Al­berta. Dry con­di­tions and for­est fire smoke af­fected crop yields and qual­ity.

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