Calgary

Farmers cautiously optimistic as spring seeding starts early

Drier conditions across much of Alberta have allowed some farmers to hit the fields a little earlier this year for spring seeding, according to the most recent provincial crop report.

Prices have remained high, too

Southern Alberta is seeing a strong start to seeding season this year, due to dry conditions. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Drier conditions across much of Alberta have allowed some farmers to hit the fields a little earlier this year for spring seeding, according to the most recent provincial crop report.

Greg Hawkwood, who farms in the Madden area, said coming off a year that included significant price jumps for some crops including canola and barley, he's feeling optimistic — as long as the weather cooperates.

"Crops are in. A lot … were ahead of schedule, so now we're just waiting for Mother Nature, which she gave us some moisture this weekend, and now we just need some heat and we're looking pretty good," he said.

Hawkwood said usually seeding starts the first week of May, but this year many began earlier, in April.

Provincially, as of May 4, seeding was ahead of schedule with an average of 17.4 per cent of crops already planted, while also ahead of the five-year average of 10.7 per cent.

The bulk of that lead is in the south, where producers have planted 45.5 per cent of crops like dry peas, mustard, chickpeas and wheat already. In central areas, 12 per cent has been planted.

Last year was also a good harvest, and Hawkwood said coming off of those high prices, it's had him weighing some business decisions — whether to invest the money back into the land or new technology, or make any changes to the crop rotation.

"When you do make a good profit off your cereal grains and stuff like that, the first thing every farmer thinks is, 'should I upgrade?'" he said.

"It's a good thing to have. One of these things comes along maybe twice in your lifetime … but you gotta remember this market is very volatile."

Alberta Federation of Agriculture president Lynn Jacobson said it's been a fairly good year for grains and oilseeds. She said farmers are hoping prices can remain strong.

"Prices, while they're going to be volatile and go up and down, I think they're looking to be fairly steady and be higher than usual," she said. 

As for the dry conditions, the crop report estimated 54 per cent of the province has good or excellent surface soil moisture, but added that's 14 points below the previous five-year average.

"We ain't out of the woods yet … it's the June rains that really will tell what kind of crops we get in the fall," Hawkwood said.

The report said forage and feed grain reserves are in OK shape, but the slow movement of cattle to beef-processing plants due to the pandemic has caused increased demands for feed.

With files from Dave Gilson

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