Calgary

Alberta hay producers hope for wetter weather in the face of dwindling reserves

It looks to be another challenging year when it comes to accessing hay in the province, as the consequences of hot, dry conditions over the past few years begin to add up. 

Hay prices have skyrocketed over the past couple of years, hitting more than $200 a bale in some regions

Alberta farmers are contending with the compounded effects of prolonged low moisture levels, and that doesn't bode well for this year's hay harvest. (Joe MacDonald/CBC)

It looks to be another challenging year when it comes to accessing hay in the province, as the consequences of hot, dry conditions over the past few years begin to add up. 

Beef and forage specialist Barry Yaremcio estimates 75 per cent of Alberta is currently in a "very severe moisture deficiency."

Dry conditions in recent years have led to lower hay yields, and in some instances, farmers and ranches have overgrazed their pastures, Yaremcio said. "And that reduces the possibility to grow another crop the following year," he explained.

Hay prices have skyrocketed over the past couple of years, hitting more than $200 a bale in some regions. 

Whether that will happen again this year depends on Mother Nature. 

"There is a potential to have a good hay crop and price that is lower than what we experienced in the last year, but the other side is also possible," Yaremcio said.

Many farmers have nothing left in hay reserves

Kelly Smith Fraser with Alberta Beef Producers says if the weather doesn't cooperate again this season, producers will have to get creative.

"Times like this just make us think out of the box. And even if our hay supply is down this summer, we'll see those people continuing, looking for different methods, and trying to hold onto their cow herds," said Fraser. 

Yaremcio said roughly 70 per cent of forage production occurs by July 15. "So we've got a little bit of time to get more growth," he said.

But where farmers in 2017 and 2018 could count on feed carry over in times of poor harvest, that won't be true this year.

"People have nothing left in reserves, so they are really counting on a good hay crop this year to have enough forage to make it through the winter," said Yaremcio.

With files from Terri Trembath

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