Alberta farmers hope for rain after extremely warm and dry winter

Some farmers are nervously waiting for rain after wide swaths of central and southern Alberta experienced an extremely warm and dry winter.

Average temperatures spiked to levels expected to occur less than once in 50 years in many parts of province

Farmer Murray Marsh says moisture in April will be crucial in order to provide enough grass and forage for his herd of 120 cattle, which is expected to grow soon as many give birth. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Some farmers are nervously waiting for rain after wide swaths of central and southern Alberta experienced an extremely warm and dry winter.

"It would be ideal if we could get some moisture now," said Debbie Marsh, who runs a cattle and grain operation near Carstairs with her husband Murray.

February was the third driest on record in some parts of the province, according to Environment Canada and Murray said his farm saw just a single centimetre of snowfall in March.

Ralph Wright, a moisture specialist with the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, said "a significant portion of the province" experienced among the warmest average temperatures on record through January, February and March — extremes that are expected to occur, on average, less than once in 50 years.

Sections of southern and central Alberta also saw extremely low levels of precipitation accumulate over the cold season, adding to the Marshes' worries.

This map depicts precipitation accumulation from January to March 2016 compared to the long-term normal amounts. (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)

"There doesn't seem to be a lot of moisture forecast in the short term and they said we could reach 20 degrees ... that's pretty warm for the first couple of days in April," Murray said.

"Those warmer than average temperatures are just weighing on the fact that moisture is marginal."

With 120 cows, some of them "very pregnant," he said there will soon be a lot of mouths to feed and the weather in the next couple of weeks could be crucial in providing enough food for the herd.

"If we don't get the moisture prior to mid-April, it starts to limit the amount of grass and forage we'll get," he said.

Murray Marsh runs a grain and cattle operation near Carstairs, Alta. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Kirk Torneby, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said there may be hope on the horizon for producers like the Marshes, as there is more rain in the long-term forecast for April and beyond.

"Early indications, although confidence is not particularly high, is showing near-normal or slightly more than normal precipitation, especially for the southern part of the Prairies," he said.

This map depicts the average daily mean temperatures from January to March 2016 compared to the long-term normals. (Alberta Forestry and Agriculture)

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