Drought looms

Prairie farmers who have watched potential farm earnings wither away under a stubborn spring dryness are unlikely to receive much relief now that summer has arrived, says a leading North American meteorologist.

Drew Lerner, president of World Weather Inc., said June 22 that warm, dry conditions are likely to persist across much of Western Canada for at least a week or two.

With the possible exception of more isolated thunder showers, a large portion of the Canadian Prairies will remain dry, placing additional pressure on already stressed crops and heightening concerns about drought-related production losses across much of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“Production has already been impacted,” Lerner said.

“We had our opportunity to prevent the losses from being permanent here a couple of weeks ago, but I think we’ve gone beyond that now.”

“If we could just get a good generalized half inch to an inch of rain, there would probably be a lot of crops that would still snap around and end up doing relatively well … but time’s a ticking and we don’t really have a lot of time left to play around with that game. Some of the crops are already hurting pretty bad.”

With rainfall amounts already well below normal across much of Western Canada, it now seems unlikely that prairie farmers will produce even an average sized crop this year.

Conditions vary from area to area, but in general, much of Western Canada’s most productive farmland is extremely dry.

In many cases, yield potential has already been irreversibly harmed.


Canola has probably suffered more than any other crop, Lerner said.

Some canola crops haven’t germinated. Many that have are patchy, with uneven emergence, according to Saskatchewan Agriculture.

Thunder showers delivered much needed relief to some parts of Saskatchewan, but rainfall amounts were highly variable and many areas are still waiting for their first shot of rain in almost two months.

“There is good subsoil moisture out there still,” said Lerner.

“The problem is that the crops can’t get to it.”

Rainfall maps from Agriculture Canada, WeatherFarm and other weather services show below normal rainfall amounts for the vast majority of the Canadian Prairies.

The most notable exceptions are southern Manitoba, southeastern Saskatchewan and parts of northeastern Saskatchewan around Melfort, Tisdale and Nipawin.

As of late June, rainfall amounts in much of the British Columbia Peace were also close to normal.

In general, significant rainfalls have been hit and miss, said Lerner.

Spotty shower activity has delivered timely relief to some growers, while others are still choking in dust.

“In most areas, it’s been pretty erratic and pretty limited,” Lerner said. “I think most farmers know deep down that when you go from early April to the second week in June and you don’t get any rain at all, that would definitely qualify as drought conditions.”

At Nokomis, Sask., southeast of Saskatoon, Brett Halstead said some Saskatchewan farmers who were lucky enough to receive thunder showers during the past two or three weeks are actually sitting on what could be a decent crop.

But even those growers need rain, and quickly.

“Crops are looking pretty good right here … but other areas are struggling,” Halstead, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said in a June 22 interview.

“They’re a week or even days away from having a very poor crop and even a rain now would probably give them only an average crop at best.”

Halstead declined to offer an estimate on Canada’s overall canola production in 2015, but he conceded that this year’s oilseed harvest will be lower than expected.

A high pressure ridge was expected to form in Alberta this week, delivering more warm, dry weather across much of the West.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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