Irrigation makes the difference

Crops in southern Alberta are a study in contrasts this year.

Those farming some of the region’s 1.4 million irrigated acres are looking at average yields. Those farming dry land acres are harvesting fields with much lower yields due to low rainfall since May.

“I’m expecting 90 percent to 105 percent of average,” crop adviser Jack Feenstra of Chinook Crop Care said about expected yields on irrigated acres in the Lethbridge region.

“Irrigation will be fine. It will not be an exceptional year except on corn and sugar beets, he said.

“I’m really, really hoping to have new records in those crops. Cereals, especially late seeded cereals, they will come in at … 80 to 90 percent of average.”

The region’s potato crops are also holding their own, although Potato Growers of Alberta executive director Terence Hochstein said yields have yet to be determined. Harvest won’t start on that crop until the end of this month.

“Time will tell. The heat has caused some damage because potatoes, anything above 25 C they just shut down. They need it to be not so hot and it needs to cool off at night,” said Hochstein.

“But so far, so good. Guys have watered constantly.”

It’s a different story 100 kilometres south of Lethbridge in the Foremost region. Farmers there are well into harvest, having started early as crops withered in the heat.

“There’s lots of lentils and peas that are done and quite a bit of durum and spring wheat that’s come off,” said agronomist Denise Reese of Agro Plus in Foremost.

Lentil yields are reported at seven to 25 bushels per acre and peas at 10 to 20 bu.

“No rain and 30 to 35 C for a lot of the summer, it really hurts,” said Reese.

“Harvest is quite early. I think there’s a few guys that are looking at finishing up here in the next week or two. We’re all hoping we get lots of fall rains and a good amount of snow this winter because we’ve used up all our reserve.”

Randy Brehaut, location manager for Independent Crop Inputs in Taber, Alta., said he’s seeing the same highs and lows dependent on irrigation or the lack of it.

“On the dry land, it’s very dry. In some areas, like right around Taber here, dry land is probably 40 bushels (on cereals), which is probably two-thirds of what has become the norm,” said Brehaut.

In the Warner area, dry land cereals are running 20 to 30 bu. per acre so far, “when they’re used to probably 60 on dry land. There was 50 days of no moisture at all. I haven’t heard of any canola coming off yet, but it might be worse yet.

“Even the sweet corn, the early sweet corn is sweeter, I would say, than normal, but the season I think is going to be a lot shorter because everything is ripening so quick that you won’t have a month and a half of sweet corn. You’ll have three weeks of sweet corn.”

The 30 C and hotter days of July were a challenge even for those with irrigation access.

“Irrigation crops are good, but they haven’t been able to keep up with the water so it’s not going to be super. It will be good, but not super,” Brehaut said.

Edgar Dueck, who was combining barley in pivot corners last week, agreed that getting enough water on crops was a challenge in this summer’s heat.

“For the last number of years, we’ve had a little bit of rain so we probably didn’t start irrigating soon enough,” said Dueck.

That said, he’s expecting about 130 bu. on irrigated barley crops in the region, which is on a par with other years. Winter wheat is also looking very good, said Dueck, and will be harvested soon.

“It’s been a challenging irrigation year,” agreed Feenstra.

“Those that were the most aggressive with the water, it definitely shows.”

Seventy-five km north of Lethbridge, dry land acres fared little better than those in the south.

“If we would have had one rain in July, we would have had a crop, but it didn’t come,” said Martin Vaage of Snake Valley Farms east of Champion.

He said conditions this summer reminded him of those in the 1980s, when drought took a toll.

Alberta Agriculture statistics indicate most regions south of Red Deer have received less than 20 millimetres of rain since mid-June. South of the Trans-Canada Highway, many weather stations report less than five mm.

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