This map gives a look at the accumulation of precipitation over the last two years compared to the long-term average, which sees some areas becoming drier than normal. Image: AAF

Moisture levels will dictate measure of success this season

How much falls, melts and how quickly will determine what farmers will face this spring

With spring coming around the bend, producers around the province are all thinking about the same topic.

It all surrounds moisture, but the specifics depend on what part of Alberta a farmer lives in.

Crop information specialist Harry Brook with Agriculture and Forestry (AF) explains that some are hoping for a fast melt, some areas would like a slow melt and still others are looking to maintain some reserves.

“There are still places in the province that still have crop in the fields from last year that they need to harvest,” he said.

“Meanwhile, there are many in the central and southern regions that are hoping for an early spring melt in order for it to be dry enough to start seeding soon.”

Brook stated the Peace region has a huge excess of snow pack in the field — between 150 and 200 mm to date — to go with soil moisture levels that are already rated extremely high.

“With those levels, it may take some time for fields to be dry enough to combine what’s still out there. That’s already going to put them behind the eight-ball when it comes to seeding this year’s crop,” he said.

“In central areas, it’s hit-and-miss on crops. Many were able to complete harvest, but there are still some that need to come off. I’ve heard of places around Olds and you can spot some when driving between highways 13 and 613.”

As far as soil moisture reserves (measured to a depth of 120 cm), there are a few things that are of concern in the central region.

About one-third of the area — mostly in the counties of Red Deer, Starland and Stettler — have been rated as moderately low while there are a pair of low rated pockets in the the southwest of Red Deer County and the eastern portion of Clearwater County. Around one-quarter of the rest of the region is near the normal three-year average while a small area running from Rocky Mountain House to Calgary ranges from above normal to very high.

“It’s not that great looking right now, but it is also not overly significant that soil moisture isn’t as high in some areas,” said Brook.

“With a good portion of the moderately low rated area having a decent amount of snow pack on the surface, it will leave a decent amount of moisture in the soil to get those crops going when fields are ready for seeding.”

However, with some fields still having crops sitting in the snow, it’s making it a bit harder on some farmers.

“This all puts some stress on producers who have to pick how much seed and inputs to buy when they don’t know how it turned out last year. Then there is whether they can get stuck on credit and how much time they will have to get crops in the ground this spring,” Brook added.

“If you remember what took place in 2016, this is worse. Back then, there was about 1.1 million acres to harvest, this time around that figure is closer to two million — much of it in the northwest and northeast regions.

“Now, it’s all about how fast that snow melts and the ground dries enough to get equipment out there. What else is crucial is how much of what’s left is salable.”

His focus is on what hasn’t been gotten to by vermin or decay for wheat, while for canola the big worry is if it has oxidized, as once that occurs, “no one is going to want it for anything.”

Brook noted that over-wintering crops normally lose 25 per cent of their quality leading usually to a 50 per cent cut in price.

“Psychologically that can be very hard, especially if it happens several years in a row,” he stated.

“How do you keep going when all these disasters seem to be against you. Throw in the trade disputes, a rail strike and blockades piling things up — it can be devastating.”

As for the prediction by forecasters that spring will arrive early, don’t count on that according to Brook.

“We have gotten heavy snow storms in March and April, so I don’t put much stock in the long-term forecasts.”.

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