Calgary

Late start, great conditions have some Alberta farmers ahead of seeding schedule

Some southern Alberta farmers, despite getting a late start due to lingering snow, had a great seeding season. But rain is a big concern with subsoil levels their lowest in more than 50 years.

But subsoil moisture levels in Calgary area are lowest in more than 50 years

Larry Woolliams, who runs the roughly 9,000-acre Woolliams Farms Ltd near Airdrie, said seeding was late but fast this year. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Some southern Alberta farmers, despite getting a late start due to lingering snow, have had a great seeding season. But with subsoil levels at their lowest in more than 50 years, rain is a big concern. 

"Soil moisture was the best we have had in years for us, for seeding conditions," Larry Woolliams told CBC News.

"But it's drying up quickly with the warm winds we are having. We are in desperate need of rain for sure."

Woolliams, who runs the roughly 9,000-acre Woolliams Farms Ltd near Airdrie, said seeding was late but fast this year.

"We were late getting in the field but we caught up. We finished a day earlier than we did last year, but it was non-stop. Everybody was getting pretty tired at the end."

That lines up with what the province's experts are seeing. The most recent Alberta Crop Report says most producers are now done and ahead of schedule. 

"Provincially, seeding progress is nearing completion at 95 per cent, which has passed the five year average," the report states.

Despite a fast seeding season this year, subsoil moisture levels in the Calgary area are at their lowest in more than 50 years, so rain is the next challenge in coming weeks. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry based in Stettler, says the concern now is moisture.

He says subsoil moisture levels, which last year contributed to bumper crops in some regions, are at their lowest in decades in the Calgary area.

"This area has got the lowest subsoil moisture levels that we have seen in more than 50 years. There is no reserve. You have got to have rain or you're toast."

Concerned but optimistic

Brook said rain is critical in coming weeks.

"We've exhausted that bank account of moisture and now we're going to have to rely on timely rain throughout June and July to get that crop to the point where it can be harvested," Brook said.

"That's kind of the biggest concern right now."

Meanwhile, Woolliams is concerned but optimistic.

"We need a fair amount of moisture," he said.

"These crops right now are surviving on very little ground moisture. I am hoping mid to late June is going to be wet. We are going to need rains right through July."

With files from CBC's Dave Gilson

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