Farmers brace for what might again be another wet harvest season

Worries over another difficult harvest were running high in northern Alberta and B.C. last week as snow blanketed fields in the regions.

Anywhere from five to 15 centimetres fell last week across both provinces, with the Peace River area taking the brunt of the snowfall. Many farmers were raising concerns about potentially facing another wet and delayed harvest, posting photos of their buried crops on social media.

“I was swathing canola last night (Sept. 11) when it started to snow,” said Jerome Isaac, who farms near Debolt, Alta. “Because it hasn’t rained much, I thought maybe we could get away with it. But when I woke up this morning, we got a good dump.”

Isaac said he likely experienced about 12 to 16 cm of snow. While he has only gotten about five per cent of harvest complete, he’s hoping his crops will make it through. He said none of them have totally flattened, but he expects some lodging.

“There’s definitely a concern of lost grade and lost value, but there’s not a lot a guy can do about it,” he said. “We’ll just make the best of it when we get the chance.”

The snow came at an unwelcome time for some. According to Alberta’s crop report as of Sept. 4, farmers in the province’s northwest region had only 4 per cent of harvest completed. In the Peace, 2 per cent of crops were in the bin.

In the La Crete, Alta. area, Joe Peters said he got about seven to 10 centimetres of snow. He still has about 75 per cent left of the crop to harvest.

“I’ve had better days,” he said. “A lot of guys are still waiting to get started. It’s not really fun as far as how it has affected things.”

While it’s too early to say how his crops will fare, he said he expects his malt barley to be downgraded and that his organic peas received the worst damage.

He said he still expects his wheat to remain at the same grade, but won’t know for certain until it gets in the bin.

“I’ve never really dealt with this before,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a more expensive harvest. Hopefully we get everything off.”

In Debolt, Isaac said he suspects the smoke from the lengthy B.C. wildfires this summer had played a role in delaying his harvest this year. The smoke would have impeded sunlight, therefore delaying maturation.

However, last week’s snow doesn’t spell out total disaster.

While harvests have been wet and difficult in the region over the last two years, it’s too soon to say that this year will be just as problematic, said Trevor Hadwen, an Agroclimate Specialist with Agriculture Canada’s Drought Watch service.

He said the precipitation shouldn’t linger too long. The weather is expected to be warmer than normal going forward.

“It does put a damper on harvest a little bit, but it should provide some nice recharge to soil moisture in areas for grasslands and pastures,” he said.

For swathed canola, he said there could be problems if the moisture lingers. He said it is best for producers affected by the snow to leave their canola uncut and dry out over the next week.

Despite the challenges, both Isaac and Peters say it could be much worse.

“You just got to put your head down and work hard,” Peters said. “There are bigger problems in the world than some flat crops. We have it pretty good. We just have to stay positive and keep going.”

If there are any farmers who are feeling discouraged, Isaac said they should reach out to others who have been in situations like this before.

“This definitely does take an emotional toll,” he said. “Talk to other farmers who have survived it and get encouragement. We want to make sure nobody gets too discouraged.”

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