Timely rain gives good start to growing season

Many farmers were smiling last week after bouts of rain blanketed parts of the Prairies, allowing for what climate specialists say is a good start to the growing season.

Farmers received 1 to 25 mm of rain in Alberta, as high as 125 mm in Saskatchewan and between 10 and 50 mm in Manitoba, according to Trevor Hadwen, an Agroclimate Specialist with Agriculture Canada’s Drought Watch service.

The rain was particularly welcome in the southern parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. The regions have largely been dealing with dry conditions and lower-than-normal moisture levels.

“This has been quite helpful and very timely,” said Bill Gehl, who farms near Regina and is a director with the Saskatchewan Wheat Commission. He said on June 3 that he received 50 mm of rain, while some farmers east of him got 100 mm to 125 mm.

“This one has been widespread. For the majority of farmers, it’s put a smile on their face.”

At 125 mm, southeast Saskatchewan saw the largest amount of rainfall, though Hadwen said some farmers on social media had posted they received 177 mm to 254 mm. There was so much rain that flooding also became an issue in some areas, he said.

“It fell quickly and it fell hard. Though there are no reports yet, it’s possible there was some damage due to soil erosion.”

In Manitoba, he said the largest amounts were seen up in the Swan River and Dauphin areas, while the southern part saw anywhere from 15 to 30 mm.

Alberta’s Peace region saw the least amount at between 1 and 15 mm, while the southern part of the province saw up to 25 mm. Central Alberta saw around 8 to 30 mm, while the areas just northeast and northwest of Edmonton averaged around 5 to 30 mm.

“We needed this rain desperately down here,” said David Bishop, who farms near Barons, Alta. in the south, and is a director with the Alberta Barley Commission. “We’re going to need more rain, but it’s definitely a good start to the growing season.”

The rain was timely for many farmers who had just finished seeding shallow crops like canola, because moisture levels were lower in the upper layer.

As well, it was welcome for pastures and tame hay fields. Some ranchers were worrying their grasses weren’t going to grow.

“Everyone greeted it with sighs of relief,” said Karin Schmid, a beef production specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers. “Things were getting dire in terms of how dry it was.”

But while the rain last week has been welcome, Hadwen said more will be needed throughout the summer to ensure a good growing season.

He said there are still areas that need more moisture. They include southern Alberta, Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan. He said it’s too early to say how this rain will affect long-term moisture levels in southeast Saskatchewan, where the rain fell hard.

“With some of those crops being drowned out in southeast Saskatchewan and some of them being eroded, if it drys out really quickly, some producers may decide to re-seed,” he said. “Others may claim crop insurance on it.”

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