Desperate prairie farmers continued to chip away at unharvested acres this week, but lodged crops, damp grain and muddy field conditions added further delays to what has already become one of the latest and most difficult harvest seasons in recent memory.
“It will take a miracle to get this crop off,” said Alberta grower Geoff Gonnet.
“There will be big time losses in this area, even if we do get into the fields.”
Gonnet, who farms near Onoway, said producers in his area and across much of northern Alberta are facing a grim situation this year.
Alberta’s harvest was just 75 percent complete as of late October.
Farmers in the province’s northwestern and northeastern regions were worst off. They have harvested just 55 and 66 percent of their acres, respectively, according to Alberta Agriculture’s Oct. 25 crop report.
Nearly 60 percent of the crop is still in the field on Gonnet’s third generation farm, and not a kernel of grain was harvested dry this year.
For others, the situation is even worse.
“I know some guys who haven’t turned a wheel all year,” he said Oct. 28.
“We combined some wheat last weekend (Oct 22-23) — about 40 acres — at 22 percent moisture … but it’s been raining and drizzling and foggy all week so prospects of combining diminish more every day.
“Other than a miracle, I think we are done for this year.”
With prospects of returning to the fields looking increasingly grim, farmers in many parts of the West are now contemplating the financial fallout from this year’s failed harvest.
Gonnet said many will be unable to pay off this year’s operating loan, let alone make arrangements for next year.
If necessary, provincial farm groups are encouraging growers to visit their financial institutions as soon as possible to discuss financing arrangements.
Growers are also reminded to file crop insurance production reports before upcoming deadlines.
The cash-advance program will not be fully available to growers who have unharvested crops in the field.
It uses harvested grain and oilseeds as collateral, but it will not extend credit on unharvested crops.
Provincial crop insurance programs will offer another measure of financial relief to cash-strapped growers.
But for some, safety net programs simply won’t be enough, Gonnet said.
Crop insurance wasn’t designed to cover a harvest wreck like the one he’s facing this fall.
“I’m … frustrated with crop insurance and the cash advance program,” Gonnet said.
“With what I’ve got combined, I should be eligible for $300,000 worth of coverage, but they (Alberta crop insurance) are going to pay me $56,000 this fall.”
The rest will have to wait until next spring, when Alberta Financial Services Corp. makes its final adjustments on yield and quality losses.
Alberta growers have access to two benefits stemming from unharvested acres.
AFSC spokesperson Steve Gillette said the Basic Unharvested Acreage Benefit pays producers 25 percent of their elected coverage amount but is only applicable on a portion of unharvested acres that are insured.
Growers who qualify for the basic benefit may also receive the Supplementary Unharvested Acreage Benefit, provided that other eligibility criteria are met.
To qualify for the benefits, Alberta growers are required to submit production reports before Nov. 15, regardless of what’s left in the field.
Growers in Saskatchewan are also required to file reports and register claims by Nov. 15.
Shawn Jaques, president of the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp., said growers can request a coverage extension before the Nov. 15 reporting deadline.
In some cases, the extension will cover farmers against losses that occur over winter.
Jaques said SCIC will do its best to determine crop insurance payouts this fall, using production and quality information that is available.
Final adjustments on unharvested crops will take place the following spring, meaning that additional payments for lost bushels could be available next spring.
“We know that there’s going to be people that won’t get the crop harvested this year,” Jaques said.
“We’re hopeful … but we recognize that there will be areas where producers won’t finish.”