Rain falls east of Red Deer on Monday afternoon. Many Central Alberta farmers got some welcome rain over the weekend. Seeding is mostly complete in the region and about two-thirds of crops are emerging. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

Recent rain came at a good time for Central Alberta farmers

Seeding mostly finished in Central Region

Many Central Alberta farmers got much-needed rain in the last few days.

Seeding is pretty much complete in the central region and about two-thirds of crops have emerged.

“This is one of only two regions where emergence is ahead of the five-year average,” says last Friday’s Alberta Crop Report, which covers conditions up to May 31.

Surface soil moisture percentages are much better than the southern areas of the province, with 69 per cent of soil moisture rated fair or good in the region, which covers an area from Rimbey to Airdrie and Coronation to Oyen.

“The crops have emerged really good,” said Jeff Nielsen, who farms in the Olds area. “I wouldn’t say it was dire, but it was getting close to where they needed a drink real bad.”

He got only about an inch of rain for all of May and about an inch fell on Sunday. Precipitation is still behind averages and there was not a lot of snow cover to add its moisture earlier in the spring.

An Alberta Agriculture moisture map for the past 180 days ending May 31 shows that most of Central Alberta rates as having moderately, low or very low accumulations of moisture relative to the long-term normal.

“June is typically the wettest month of the year across most of the province and a return to normal weather patterns are needed now. This is even more important for those lands lying between Red Deer and the U.S. border with the greatest moisture shortages lying south of the Trans-Canada highway,” says the Agriculture Moisture Situation Update that came out on Monday and covers a period up to May 31.

The crop report rated pasture conditions 80 per cent fair to good and tame hay is 83 per cent fair to good, about the same as last year at this early stage of the season.

Nielsen said the lack of early spring moisture will hurt hay and pastures despite the recent rain.

“They’ll green up better now, but there is not going to be a hay crop and pastures are not going to be as good as they could have been.”

It’s surprising for this area. It’s the second year in a row for pastures and hay land to not be that good.”

The prices for most major crops are high, which bodes well if the crops come in and are not hit by drought as they were in the late summer last year.

“The rain this weekend does not guarantee a crop by any means. Last year, the latter part of June and July we had five of six weeks of plus-35 C temperatures.

“Whatever reserves (of moisture) we had in the soil we used last year. We didn’t get much in the rain in the fall to recover or replenish the moisture.

“If anything, we’ll be more dependent on timely rains this year.”

Zero tillage proved its worth last season by helping farmers retain moisture in their fields.

Farmers in this area are fortunate compared with others further south. He talked to friends in the Lethbridge area and McGrath, a little further to the south, and they did not get any of the recent rain.

“It’s getting really desperate for them,” he said.

The Alberta Crop Report says soil moisture is rated 36 per cent poor in the south and sub-surface moisture is rated 73 per cent poor.

“Moisture deficits remain the key risk in the South Region,” says the report.

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To the end of May, most of Central Alberta had received less than 30 mm of rain in the previous 36 days, which is considerably drier than normal. (Map from Alberta Agriculture)

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