Alberta farmers hope wet weather won't bring a repeat of tough 2016 harvest

A cold, rainy week has farmer's west of Edmonton worried the upcoming harvest will be as challenging as last year.

‘Last year we didn't even spin a wheel all of September,’ says Devon-area farmer

A wet September has farmers west of Edmonton worried that it might lead to a challenging harvest for the second year in a row. 1:15

In a picturesque prairie setting, dark clouds dominate the sky as droplets of water slowly drip off limp strands of wheat. It's a scene that stresses out farmers west of Edmonton.

Nearby in Devon, Alta., Mike Wedman, 36, and his father Dave are in a shop weighing out seeds and checking that their machinery is ready to go. They'd rather be out combining seeds to see what kind of shape their crops are in.

Mike Wedman (right) and his father Dave stand in their field near Devon, Alta. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

"As it's sitting there, you're losing yield and quality. It's kind of like a snowball effect," Mike Wedman said. "When the weather turns ugly everything's bad."

"Hopefully, it's not a repeat of last year. That's what's on my mind right now. Just, okay we went through this last year. Last year we didn't even spin a wheel all of September."

He wasn't alone last season. Many farmers south and east of Edmonton weren't able to harvest their crops at all due to wet, cold weather. When the snow melted and the crops finally dried, they combined what remained but it was a low-quality crop.

That led to them seeding later than usual, and shortened the growing season.

This week's wet weather has farmers seeing flashbacks of that poor harvest.

Last October, 45 millimetres of snow and rain fell on the Edmonton area. In the past three weeks, there's already been 44 millimetres of rain, according to Environment Canada.

"If the weather continues and we have similar conditions we may have issues where crop is left in the field, specifically barley," said Paul Muyres, an agrologist who works in Leduc County.

"You'll ask any farmer, and if they can park their equipment by Sept. 30 or the first week of October, they're pretty happy," he said. "This has caused a lot of additional stress to farmers with this weather that we've had this past week."

Similar concerns in Parkland County

Graham Jespersen stands by his combine as it sits idle on the edge of his wheat field in Parkland County. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

In Parkland County, Graham Jespersen's crops barely avoided the hail that damaged other farmers' crops this summer. 

A lot of people have grain dryers and stuff like that but that adds quite a bit of extra cost.- Graham Jespersen, Parkland County farmer

"The first little bit we got combined, everything looked really good. Yields were good, quality was good," Jespersen said. "So now we just need some weather to co-operate with us to keep going."

But right now his combine is covered in raindrops and sits next to a puddle in his wheat field. He's banking on dry weather that's expected next week, but that doesn't mean farmers can start harvesting their crops as soon as the rain stops.

"The challenge is really to get 'em dry enough to harvest. We can cheat a little bit and get 'em off early. A lot of people have grain dryers and stuff like that but that adds quite a bit of extra cost. The other thing is that you don't want to risk crops going bad in bins."

As long as the rain holds off over the next month, it could be the harvest that both Jespersen and Wedman were hoping for.