Northern Alberta farmers experiencing ‘harvest from hell’

Farmers in Alberta’s northern region are experiencing a wet, snowy and frustrating harvest this year.

It’s been so difficult that farmer Otto Rottier has called it, in some ways, “the harvest from hell.”

“There’s a lot of very stressed farmers around here, for sure,” said Rottier, who lives northwest of Westlock, during a phone interview on Oct. 12. “Right now we’re a little bit behind.”

Most farmers who live south of the Peace Region and north of Highway 16, and west of Smoky Lake and east of the Municipal District of Greenview, are experiencing wet conditions and frosts. As well, snowfalls have flattened crops in some areas.

“My son-in-law still has 500 acres out and they had 10 inches of snow in Athabasca,” Rottier said. “He’s basically conceded he can work with this, because he had 1,200 acres out last year.”

Precipitation has particularly delayed harvest in the northwest where about 41 percent of the crop has been combined, according to Neil Whatley, a crop specialist for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“This northwest area, which includes Edmonton, is really our worst area this year.”

As well, this year’s harvest in the region feels somewhat similar to last year’s, he added, because farmers are again dealing with lots of rain or snow.

Some farmers in the area are only dealing with late-seeded crops because they were forced to harvest last year’s crop this spring. Their late-seeded crops were always going to face greater risks.

“Some people in the spring that seeded late, they knew they were going to get low grade if there were early frosts in the fall,” Whatley said, noting there has already been plenty of frost this fall.

“Some of them were thinking they’ll probably get feed wheat, a lower grade, anyways.”

To mitigate these wet conditions, lots of producers have been drying their crops, said farmer Greg Porozni, who lives in Willingdon and is with the Alberta Wheat Commission.

“It’s been a struggle, an absolute struggle,” he said.

“In our area, I’ve never seen so much variability because of the late spring we had. People are either half done or not even half way.”

He said it’s likely there will be some crop left out over winter.

“It won’t dry down in time, unless we don’t get any snow and we don’t get any -15C or -20C weather,” he said. “But when you’re in November, the odds just get very, very low.”

Rottier said he still hopes he and others can get as much off as they can.

“In 1978, we didn’t turn a wheel until Oct. 8, and I don’t remember anybody not getting done,” he said. “I think a lot of this comes down to faith.”

Whatley said harvesting everything is do-able as long as the weather co-operates.

“There’s still time,” he said. “The next few days are really important.”

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