Timing is everything when it comes to rainfall and crop development, but southern Alberta’s extensive irrigation system re-moves that wrinkle from the crop quilt for those who have access.
Irrigated crops of all kinds are in good shape radiating outward from Lethbridge and across the south, according to crop specialists.
Sprinklers were especially crucial earlier in the growing season when conditions were dry, but July showers have reduced the need.
The Lethbridge region received more than 110 millimetres of rain in July, more than double the usual amount.
However, that bountiful moisture came too late for most dry land farmers. Conditions were dry at the crucial head-filling stage, and pastures are only now greening up.
“Without irrigation, we’d be in real dire straits right now,” said Dwayne Rogness, a rural extension specialist for Lethbridge County.
“In the northeast of the county, there’s a real dry area there, basically a drought, and really short stands of crops and not very good seed development. Even though we’re getting the rain now, everything has flowered and was pretty much set before we got these rains. Crops are down in the dry land area about 25 percent.”
Kevin Serfas, who farms more than 30,000 acres across the south, said irrigated crops are fine, but as for the rest, “crops are awful. North of Turin, north of Enchant, anything dry land is a disaster.”
Last week he was combining barley and anticipated about 25 bushels per acre.
Bushel weight is good, he added, “so at least I’ll have something to sell.”
The problem was a period of little or no rain between the May long weekend and the second week of July. Until then, “everything looked fantastic, but by the third week in June, everything shut down,” Serfas said.
Hailstorms have also taken a toll with spotty storms and variable damage.
Jack Feenstra, an adviser with Chinook Crop Care, said many of his clients around Picture Butte and Iron Springs received hail in July, forcing some to silage grain crops.
Feenstra said the DeVry Greenhouse east of Picture Butte had to replace 240 panes of glass after a July storm.
“There was glass in the poinsettias and glass in the mums. They’re already growing for the Christmas crop. It was an absolute disaster.”
Irrigated corn is fine, except where hail wreaked havoc. Feenstra said he bragged earlier this year about corn that was bellybutton high on the first of July.
“It’s still bellybutton high six weeks later, after three hailstorms,” he said.
“Thou shalt not brag.”
High humidity has given leaf diseases a foothold, and fusarium head blight is likely to reduce yields in some crops.
“We had more rain in July than in all of March, April, May and June combined,” said Feenstra.
Early harvested peas on dry land acres were yielding seven to 10 bu. per acre when 40 to 70 bu. is usual.
Dry conditions earlier in the season were also a big factor in the Lomond area.
Marie Logan said her family was finally able to turn the cows out on pasture in the last week of July.
“We were just actually hauling cows out today, to pasture,” Logan said July 28.
“We’ve been feeding them silage for the last few months rather than (put them) out on brown pastures.”
Her husband, Glenn Logan, said later seeded crops seem to be doing better than those that went in early, but hay crops on dry land are hardly worth cutting.
“The irrigated crops are great. It’s been a great season for irrigation,” he said.
However, he predicts overall crop yields will be slightly below the 10-year average because dismal dry land yields will take a toll.
Eastward to the Hilda area, north of Medicine Hat, Andy Kirschenman said his peas and lentils are now suffering from too much moisture. The region has had about 375 millimetres of rain, double the usual amount.
“The winter cereals, they look good. But yield was set while it was still dry so they’re not yielding like they look, but yielding like we would have expected them in the spring, before we got all this moisture,” said Kirschenman.
“The hay crop looks pretty good, but its not coming off. We get a shower every three days, so there hasn’t been a lot of hay put up without rain on it.”
Hay crops have also suffered from frequent showers in the Pincher Creek area in Alberta’s southwest.
Quentin Stevick, a municipal district councillor, said hay quality will likely be poor because of early season dryness followed by July rain.
“The guys I talked to, some of them didn’t even cut any hay. They just turned the cows in.”
South and east of Pincher Creek, cereals and oilseeds look promising, said Stevick.
“When you start seeing barley crops that have been lodging for a month, you know that crop’s good, and you see the canola so thick that you can’t see anything except canola, you know that’s good.”
Another bright spot in Alberta’s south centres around Foremost. Carrie Butterwick of Agro Plus Sales and Service said farmers there are just hoping hailstorms don’t affect what appear to be stellar crops.
“Things look really, really, really good,” said Butterwick July 28.
“Everybody is just really excited about how things look in this area. Its been raining and raining and raining, and we’ve fought a few disease issues earlier on, but we’re past the point of that giving us problems. We’re just waiting on harvest.”
Lentil acres were up this year in the Foremost region, and the durum looks fantastic, she said.
“Everybody wants to see this crop get in the bin.”