'This is beyond critical': Farmers burn midnight oil to get crops harvested

A late October heatwave has given southern Alberta's farmers hope that they can harvest some of their crops before winter arrives for good.

Late burst of warm weather has Alberta farmers scrambling to get crops in before winter returns

Harvest moon has taken on a new meaning this October, as many southern Alberta farmers work deep into the night to get as much of their harvest in as they can before snow returns to the region. (© Alan Dyer/

Alberta farmers are racing to beat the clock.

After a record-setting snowstorm that dumped over 30 centimetres of snow on southern Alberta on Oct. 2, Alberta farmers' crops appeared to be doomed.

However, a late October warm streak has turned out to be a game-changer that has farmers burning the midnight oil to get as much of their $3-billion worth of unharvested, snow-damaged crops in before the next snowstorm strikes.

One of those farmers, Allison Ammeter, is a Sylvan Lake resident who grows wheat, barley, canola and peas.

Ammeter was out on her combine harvesting until 2:30 a.m. Friday, then was back up at 8 a.m. to speak with host David Gray on the Calgary Eyeopener.

Allison Ammeter and her family chose to harvest their cereal crops first, as they try to beat the snow. (Allison Ammeter/Twitter)

It's all hands on deck for the Ammeter family, Alison said.

"I've got my son trucking and my husband is drying grain. My husband quit a bit earlier [last night] because he's up early in the morning and services everything. So we have a bit of a system running here."

For the Ammeters, and every other farmer in the region, every minute of warm weather is precious.

"This is beyond critical — and we're really hoping it holds until at least the end of October. There's still a lot of crop out, and every day like this, there's hundreds of acres being taken off around the province. Thousands of acres," she said.

"Everybody's going as hard as they can."

Rolling the dice

With a limited window of opportunity, each farmer must decide which crop to harvest first, she said.

"What we have chosen is to do our cereals first, because they are the most perishable if the snow does come again. And we've left our canola, because as an oil seed, it will stand up to bad weather.

"Some people are choosing to take the canola off first, because it has a higher value, knowing cereals might be difficult to get. You kind of have to make a judgment call.

"We're going for our cereals."

Some farmers are choosing to harvest canola first, because it fetches the highest prices. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Downgraded product

Whatever the Ammeters are able to harvest, it will still be downgraded because of the snow.

"The wheat has gone from what could be a high protein bread wheat to being a feed wheat for the animals. And a lot of that's visual," Ammeter said.

"There is some quality, so that is reflected to the tune of about $100 an acre for wheat, just the downgrading.

"The barley had a chance of making malt. It has no chance of making malt now that it's been snowed on so it's feed wheat also and that's a downgrading — I would say maybe $50 an acre now," she added.

Unfortunately, there's no crop insurance to cover the differential, she said.

"It's all part of the gamble and what you're doing. We just take it [a loss]," she said.

Midnight harvesting

Although it's physically draining to work such long hours, Ammeter said it beats the alternative.

"I would honestly say that I'm far happier to be able to go than sitting, waiting, being able to go. That's a good feeling," she said.

"In general, the later it gets, the combine can be absolutely fine or it can get tough and grindy, depending on when the dew comes on [the crops]."

As far as being able to guess when the dew will arrive each evening? That's about as predictable as trying to anticipate that 33 centimetres of snow will fall on October 2.

"You can't say, 'oh, the dew will be on at 11:30 or 12: 30,'" she said.

"It is very much a matter of the weather conditions and prevailing winds and all of that. So we've tried to go until the dew comes on [the crops], and when that happens, it's like trying to mow wet grass.

"You can't push it through — and you have to stop."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: