Alberta farmers warned about late seeding this spring

Farmers across Alberta are anticipating a late start to spring seeding this year with snow and cold temperatures keeping them off the fields.

The weather has likely delayed seeding by one to three weeks, depending on where producers are located, say crop specialists, and some farmers are already thinking about growing a different crop than planned or a shorter-season crop.

“Everyone is starting to think, ‘when winter is going to end?’ ” said Andre Harpe, who farms near Valhalla Centre in the Peace region and is a director with the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

This year’s conditions are quite the contrast to last year’s warmer temperatures. Some farmers in southern Alberta began seeding in late March last year, while others in central and northern Alberta seeded around late April or early May.

This year, southern Alberta farmers could expect to seed in early May and producers north of there might not get in until mid-May, said Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

“It really puts the pressure on them, that once they get seeding they really can’t afford any further delays, where you could get an inch of rain and then your field turns into a quagmire,” he said.

Brook said the reason behind the late start is lots of snowfall and frigid temperatures over the last few months. The cold allowed snowpack to build significantly in many parts of the province, he added.

Parts of southern Alberta and in the Peace region, particularly, have seen above average snowpack for this time of year. However, the snow in the Calgary and surrounding area appears to contain 50 to 80 millimetres of much-needed moisture, according to maps by Alberta Agriculture that are dated April 4.

The moisture will likely help quench parched soil from last year’s drought, as long as the snow melts at a fairly good pace.

“We’d like to encourage that infiltration instead of runoff,” said Hannah Konschuh, who farms near Cluny in southern Alberta and is a director with the Alberta Wheat Commission.

“In a perfect world, some spring rain following that would be good to keep that level of moisture where it needs to be.”

Konschuh is among some of the farmers trying to decide whether they should grow a different crop.

In northern Alberta, except for the Peace region and some western parts, moisture from snowpack is 40 to 60 mm. That may be fine for some farmers, given that many in the Athabasca and Vegreville areas dealt with an extremely wet fall last year, said Ralph Wright, manager of agro-meteorological applications with Alberta Agriculture.

In the Peace region, moisture in snowpack has been around 80 to 150 mm, which some say could cause minor overland flooding but shouldn’t be too much of an issue as long as future weather co-operates.

Where moisture could become problematic and therefore potentially hamper seeding, Wright said, is in the Barrhead area northwest of Edmonton because it received lots of moisture last year and has had high moisture values in its snowpacks.

However, he said it’s hard to predict exactly how things will unfold there and the rest of the province because of weather’s unpredictability. What would be ideal, he said, is for conditions to return to near normal so snow can melt and soil can thaw, followed by normal amounts of rain.

“We could probably stand below normal with below normal precipitation for the next little while and be just fine, as long as we’re not exceeding below normal. We don’t want to have really, really, unusual cold weather over the next two or three weeks,” he said.

“Some nice dry warm weather to get the seed in the ground and, once everything is done, just normal precipitation from there.”

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