Extreme heat wave takes toll on Peace country crops

Most crops emerged well in Alberta’s Peace River country this spring but have stalled this summer due to lack of rain. | Randy Vanderveen photo

What started as a promising spring with good crop emergence is now looking like it may be one of the worst crops ever in Alberta’s Peace River country.

“It is the hottest, driest, without-rain year we have ever seen,” said Rycroft farmer Bryan Woronuk.

“Without rain at this point we will suffer large yield losses.”

Across Alberta’s Peace River area, farmers feel lucky if they received 50 millimetres (two inches).

The heavy, clay land around Woronuk’s Rycroft farm helped retain moisture from last year’s excess rain and gave the emerging crops a boost. Since then the crops have stalled with no rain.

“They all just need a drink real bad. They’re really out of gas,” said Woronuk, who hopes any future rain will fill the heads of the cereal crops and pods of the canola and peas, which have struggled to survive.

“It is not the end of flowering going into nice pod filling, but the end of flowering going into drought. We went through that 40 degrees and wind on those crops with no rain and now it’s in the 30s again. I don’t understand how the crops look as good as they do.”

Further east at Falher, Gilles Roy said his canola quit flowering after two weeks, limiting any yield potential for the crop.

With about an inch and a half of rain since seeding, Roy considers himself luckier than his neighbour who received even less rain.

“The yield potential has decreased,” he said.

Like other areas, the crops in Falher emerged well, but a combination of drought and heat stress has Roy concerned he will be unable to harvest any crop.

Roy fears his canola crop will yield little, but is holding out hope any future rain will fill the heads on his wheat and barley.

Lance Oulette, manager of the North Peace Applied Research Association, said they have received slightly more than 50 millimetres of rain at their research centre outside Manning since May 1. Most of that came June 16-18.

“Crop wise, everything is suffering. The grain guys are at the mercy of the weather and they are hoping and wishing for rain,” said Oulette.

“At this time we are just trying to get a crop.”

Greg Sears of Sexsmith said he also started the year off with an “exceptional” looking crop.

“We had a nice rain right after the seed went in the ground and really good seeding conditions and seeding was earlier than previous years. Everyone was pretty happy at the beginning and then things have sort of dried up ever since and we have been sitting here watching a beautiful crop go backwards ever since the first of June.”

Sears said the combination of little rain and hot, dry conditions have stunted the early-seeded canola and peas, but is hoping any rain will help give the crops a chance to make some kind of yield.

“Right now, we are hoping we can get reasonable rain out of the weekend. They are talking about significant moisture and that will help fill up what has formed for heads and pods.”

Without rain there is little grain producers can do except hope the forecasted rain materializes.

“Right now, it’s at the stage where you shut the bank door and hope that we get a little moisture. We are looking at maybe half a crop now and that’s if what’s out there fills up.”

Sears said farmers also need to look after their mental health during the drought.

“The number one strategy is to get off the farm for a week and get away from looking at the crop deteriorate and spend some time with your family and enjoy that. You have to accept things you can influence and things that you can’t and lack of rain is in the category you can’t influence.”

Mike Nadeau, a cattle producer south of Beaverlodge, said this year is one of the driest of the past 15.

“We’re exceptionally dry. Conditions are tough, the crops are poor, our alfalfa is about one-third of what it typically is and our cereal crops are suffering,” said Nadeau.

Compounding the drought are the grasshoppers that have moved onto pastures and are eating any remaining green grass in the pasture.

“The grasshoppers are loving this dry weather and moving in and wreaking havoc on the pastures as well.”

Some extra carry-over pasture this spring has helped Nadeau weather the poor-growing conditions, and rain in the forecast has him hopeful he will have enough grass and not need to sell his cattle.

“We’re rotating and trying to manage the grass to the best of our ability, but … so much of it is just out of our hands. We’re not grazing the pastures completely flat, but we are getting the best of the grass off and then moving them.”

Sears said he has started to line up fescue and oat straw to use as roughage to supplement feed over winter.

Rain in the next two weeks will determine if cattle producers need to start selling cattle.

“A lot will be determined by what happens in the next 10 to 15 days,” said Nadeau.

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