Drought watchers keeping eye on Alberta

Soil moisture could be in short supply as Prairies brace for early spring following winter in which little snow has fallen

Winnipeg (CNS Canada) — Above-average temperatures and limited precipitation could mean parts of the Prairies will struggle with soil moisture heading into the spring, according to one specialist.

“The soil moisture that we have in the ground right now is similar to what we went into the winter with,” said Trevor Hadwen, agroclimate specialist with Agriculture Canada’s Drought Watch.

Regions in Alberta are most likely to be affected by dry soil, especially the central and northwestern parts of the province, Hadwen said.

“It’s been fairly dry throughout last year, and they haven’t received the amount of precipitation that they’re used to. That’s an area of concern.”

Aside from Alberta, many regions south of the Trans-Canada Highway also face the risk of below-normal soil moisture.

Dryness in those areas will become a bigger concern in the spring, Hadwen said, but noted that the Prairies often get a lot of moisture at the end of February and into March.

“We could end up with a normal winter period, according to snowfall records, so we’re certainly not in a desperate situation right now.”

Hadwen added that soil moisture conditions can recover quickly, especially with spring rainfall and a big runoff from mountain snow packs.

The current forecast from Environment Canada shows a trend of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures for the month ahead.

Hadwen expects a quick melt and start to spring, which means producers will need to find a sweet spot between spring frost and adequate soil moisture.

“The concern right now is if you wait to be free of frost, some of the soil moisture isn’t going to be there to germinate.”

Producers saw similar conditions last year, and in Manitoba re-seed claims were above the five-year average, as a late frost swept parts of the province.

Hadwen said farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan had similar problems.

“Some of them got hit by a frost and they had to reseed, and when they went to reseed soil moisture was very poor.”

Hadwen said farmers should look at the hardiness of their seed varieties and plan accordingly.

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