Alberta Farmer’s irrigation dreams come true

For almost all the 38 years Peter Fehr has farmed, he’s dreamed of having an irrigation system.

He has been dealing with dry conditions up in the northern Peace area of La Crete, Alta., and would love to see a boost in yield.

“I’ve always had irrigation in the back of my mind,” said Fehr, who farms 2,500 acres and is also a pastor at the Countryside Community Evangelical Church in town.

“With our dry conditions, we can generally bring our crop to a good-looking stage, but when the heat wave comes in later July to August, it kind of torches the flowers and that greatly reduces our yield potential.”

As well, he said the crops get a lot more daylight in the summer than other farms down south, which speeds up growth. Fall, however, comes a bit sooner.

“We need to have harvested in the first two weeks of October,” he said. “Generally, after that, we don’t have too much good weather.”

So, after contending with those issues for more than three decades, Fehr decided it was time to invest in irrigation.

The decision was a no-brainer, he said.

“I basically just pursued that vision. I always was thinking of a way where I could somehow possibly have access to the river.”

He spent the last two years with his sons Ryan and Darcy installing 804 metres of 10-and-12-inch PVC pipe and another 1.5 kilometres of 10-inch aluminum pipe to connect to the Ponton River. The irrigation project is located near Rocky Lane, Alta.

Darcy and Ryan Fehr helped their father, Peter, install pipe for their new irrigation system. | Photo supplied by Peter Fehr

The help from his sons was integral, he said.

“I would have never pursued it if the boys weren’t there to help me.”

Fehr also got approval from Alberta Environment and Parks to use the water. Prior to that approval, he had to do a feasibility study to prove irrigation wouldn’t have negative environmental impacts on his land.

“It’s been a little hard work, a lot of labour,” Fehr said. “But it has been enjoyable.”

Fehr went with centre field pivots. A company out of Brooks, Alta., supplied the equipment and he received help with setting it up. As for the pump station, it’s situated on the bank of the river and will screen water flowing through to help avoid plugging.

Since installation, he has been irrigating two quarter sections over the last four or five weeks. He said results have shown to be promising so far.

“We’re hoping for a yield increase of possibly 20 to 25 bushels per acre,” he said, noting he will have to wait until harvest to know exactly how the crop has improved.

If all goes well, he hopes to expand in the future to irrigate a total of four quarter sections.

“We’ll first do our harvest, see what the gain is and maybe go for another two quarters.”

Irrigation is fairly uncommon in northern Alberta due to the lack of infrastructure.

Fehr said he’s had a few neighbours inquire about his new system. If anyone is interested, he recommends they ensure they have good water supply. If they do, they should pursue an application with water and environment authorities.

“There is a lot of water supply to make use of here,” he said.

“We are always needing rain and we don’t have irrigation infrastructure, so it’s something as farmers we should look at and possibly get our counties involved. It would help bring our farming to the next level.”

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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