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Alberta farmers hope for more rain as heat wave blankets province

While Alberta farmers are optimistic about their crops this year thanks to the rainfall earlier in the summer, they hope the current heat wave doesn't last much longer.

'This is perhaps the most expensive crop we have grown in history,' says Canola Producers Commission

A wheat crop is harvested near Cremona, Alta., in September 2021. Alberta farmers are optimistic this year's yields will be much better than last season's. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

While Alberta farmers are optimistic about their crops this year thanks to the incessant rainfall earlier in the summer, they hope the current heat wave doesn't last much longer. 

Some regions of the province saw more than 250 millimetres of rain in the month of June, according to Roger Chevraux, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. But certain northern areas, like Peace River, are now hoping the dry spell will end. 

"Those crops up there are average to perhaps even below average. So, a rainfall would be really, really required up in those areas," Chevraux said. 

Alberta farmers suffered through a devastating drought last year. The heat dome that dried out crops led to record amounts of insurance claims.

Recent heat warnings in parts of southern Alberta saw temperatures reach 35 C.

'Million-dollar rains'

Jeremy Boychyn, agronomy research extension specialist at the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission, agrees June rains this year were "a big sigh of relief for producers across the province." He said those rains have put wheat and barley crops back in line with average yields.

"Those June rains were the million-dollar rains this year that kind of really pushed that crop along and is still pushing a lot of that crop along."

Southern Alberta farmer Richard Owen stands in the same spot of his barley field in July 2020 and July 2021. Last year, Alberta farmers suffered through a devastating drought. (Kim Owen)

However, Boychyn said crops are now getting into the grain-filling period, so more rain would help maximize yields as much as possible.

"We really want to see that continued moisture to kind of combat some of these heat stress factors to allow that crop to continue to fill the grain and produce the high potential," he said. 

Boychyn nothere are still weeks to go until some crops are harvested, depending on the coming fall weather. Until it hits the barn, it's hard to say how this year's harvest will affect markets and farmers' bottom dollar, he said. 

A pricey crop to grow

Adding to the issue of weather fluctuations, supply chain problems and rising costs are also negatively impacting farmers this year. 

Chevraux said farmers are dealing with increasing prices for farming equipment, diesel, fertilizer, feed and other supplies. Getting those supplies has become more difficult, too. 

"This is perhaps the most expensive crop we have grown in history," Chevraux said.

"It's really necessary for us this year to have a good crop in both quality and yield in order for us to break even or even make a little bit of profit."

Because of last year's drought, crop insurance has also gone up, according to Chevraux. He said that makes it even more important to have a good crop yield this season to avoid higher insurance rates for farmers down the road.

With files from Tom Ross

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