April showers bring May flowers but April snow brought doldrums to farmers in northern Alberta and the Alberta-British Columbia Peace region.
Many fields were saturated last autumn so the snow and cold this spring have not been conducive to harvesting the remainder of the 2016 crop or the start of seeding.
“It’s as wet as we’ve seen for a long, long, long, time, which is fine, but the forecast isn’t really in our favour for at least another week and even then it’s highs of 10 or 12 and plus one at night. Not exactly optimal,” said South Peace Grain Cleaning Co-op general manager Shaun Grant April 19.
He said farmers around Dawson Creek, B.C., are still pondering their seeding plans, and soggy conditions have affected the seed cleaning business because of that uncertainty and because of road bans.
“Guys just don’t think they know what they want to do and they’re still kind of reeling from the $4 feed wheat market,” said Grant.
“All the wheat up here was feed, just like it was in most places, so trying to dig your way out of that … and take whatever losses that were accrued on $4 wheat, nobody makes money on $4 wheat.”
Grant predicts a major drop in wheat acres in the region this year but if fields don’t dry up soon, peas, barley and oats will be the primary options, even though prices for those crops aren’t particularly attractive.
In the Manning region north of Peace River, Alta., nobody had turned a wheel as of last week on either the combine or the seeder.
“Everybody is waiting. People have their combines ready to go, but no go yet,” said North Peace Applied Research Association manager Nora Paulovich.
“I haven’t talked to many of the guys that have crop out but I’m thinking their plan is going to be, once it dries, they might just concentrate on seeding what they can and then go and get the combine.
“It’s a small window there if you’re going to seed your canola and wheat in a timely manner.”
Ralph Wright, Alberta Agriculture’s manager of agro-meteorology, reported that 20 to 60 milli-metres of snow fell on Easter weekend over a large part of the province north of Wetaskiwin, extending into the Peace region.
The Municipal District of Bonnyville got 50 millimetres, while Swan Hills and the western Peace got more than 60 mm.
Snow in April is not unusual for the area. Historically, there is snow north of Red Deer on April 18 more than half the time, according to Wright’s statistics.
However, recent years of early start dates for seeding have made farmers more anxious to get going and less patient with Mother Nature, said Alberta Agriculture crop specialist Harry Brook.
“It’s early yet,” he said.
“Part of the problem is that because last year was such an aberration, it was so out in left field, people got seeding early and we actually didn’t have a lot of killing frost late.
“People are thinking last year was average. Well no, last year was a real outlier. Most of our seeding gets done in May and that won’t change, I don’t think.”
Seeding is one thing, but finishing the harvest of the 2016 crop is another.
In the Fairview area, there are about 74,000 acres left to combine.
According to crop insurance figures, there are 212,000 acres of insured crop in the Spirit River, Grimshaw, Grande Prairie and Falher areas that remain to be harvested.
For those farmers, financing this year’s crop on top of losses from last year will be a worry, said Brook.
In Dawson Creek, Grant said farmers are more worried about excess moisture than unharvested crops. Some of the latter acres have already been burned, although they are still hoping to salvage some canola.
“The basic theme is the ground is completely saturated and the weather is not co-operating, so there’s going to be significant delay whether you’re trying to seed or combine,” said Grant.
“The next six weeks will be interesting.”