Late season snowstorm brings much needed moisture to Prairies

WINNIPEG, March 8 (CNS) – After a winter spent waiting for snow, farmers across the southern Prairies were happy when the forecast was right and Western Canada received a late winter snowstorm.

“We’ve heard moisture’s coming before and it doesn’t show up or it goes around us. So when it started snowing and it started adding up it was a pretty good feeling,” said Terry Anthony, director with the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and mixed grain farmer south of Moose Jaw, Sask.

Last summer the southern Prairies were plagued by a dry growing season, crops managed to survive due to moisture in the soil from previous wet years. December through to February saw little snowfall, with some areas receiving none.

Conditions continued to deteriorate across Western Canada. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Drought Monitor showed moderate drought conditions throughout the southern Prairies, with southern Saskatchewan in severe drought and the area surrounding Regina in extreme drought as of March 1.

“(There was just not enough snow) to recharge the soil moisture, the deficits were there up until now. Basically we saw extremely dry conditions,” said Trevor Hadwen, agroclimate specialist with AAFC.

At Anthony’s farm he witnessed the dry conditions first hand. He received a small snowfall at the start of the winter but winds blew it away and in the pastures were he kept his cattle, dust started blowing.

“It doesn’t give you a lot of hope. It wasn’t the fields that were blowing but where the cattle were. They had the pasture tramped down, so it really wasn’t looking very good,” he said.

Following the snowstorm over March 4 to 5 the situation has changed with drought conditions not nearly as bad, according to Hadwen. However, it is still abnormally dry across most of Western Canada. About a foot of snow fell across most of the southern Prairies, with the moisture content in the snow equalling about an inch and a half of rain.

“It certainly won’t solve all the issues though. We have significant deficits that we’re trying to make up from last year and last fall and one inch of moisture will provide a really good start,” Hadwen said.

The snow could have a larger impact though depending on how it melts. Last summer’s drought led to depleted and tainted water supplies for livestock across Western Canada. Testing done by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture on water collected last year showed about half of water sources tested were unacceptable for livestock to drink.

Replenishing those water sources is very important and typically happens through spring runoff. Spring flooding forecasts for Manitoba and Saskatchewan released prior to the snowstorm showed a moderate to below normal risk.

“(The flooding forecast) has probably changed a little bit now. We’re hoping for a little bit of runoff to fill those dugouts and water supplies and then also at the same time we’re hoping for a slow melt to kind of recharge that soil moisture,” Hadwen said.

A quick melt with early season rains or another late season snowfall would also be beneficial for the soil, Hadwen said.

Anthony is happy to see his fields covered in white, but he is still hoping for more.

“Lots of the time in the spring you can get a pretty heavy wet snowfall and there’s a lot of moisture in some of that when that happens. So hopefully there’s more on its way,” he said.

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