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Crops get poor start as prairie farmers fear another dry summer could be on the way

Crops have gotten a poor start across the prairies this season with parts of the west receiving less than half the average rainfall for the season, according to an update from Statistics Canada.

'We need a wet year, for sure,' says one farmer

Larry Woolliams farms 9,000 acres near Airdrie, Alta. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Crops have gotten a poor start across the prairies this season with parts of the west receiving less than half the average rainfall for the season, according to an update from Statistics Canada.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada reported that most of the prairie provinces received just 40 to 60 per cent of the average rainfall for the last two months, and in May temperatures were between one to four degrees below average, the agency reported Tuesday.

"We need a wet year, for sure. There's just no two ways about it. Everywhere needs water," said Larry Woolliams, with Woolliams Farms near Aidrie, Alta. "The problem that we've had is two years of no moisture." 

Crop development was much lower than normal in central and eastern Alberta, notably the Peace River region, and across Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Crop development in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba has been much lower than the average, observed between 1987 to 2018, for this time of year. (Statistics Canada)

Woolliams said he's been lucky so far — he just finished seeding on Tuesday — but other farmers haven't had the same good fortune.

"We've been getting quite a few showers and rainstorms coming through. We're pretty fortunate that way where other parts of the province and even areas within a few miles of us are not getting these showers."

One of those farmers is Humphrey Banack, with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture. He said he's hoping his farm near Camrose will see more rainfall in June.

"As soon as you put an implement in the ground, you're opening it up and letting water to escape and we haven't seen any opportunity to replace that water yet," he said.

Crop development has been lower than average for this time of year. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"When you have a field that's very different in maturity rates and that can come if we don't get rain quickly, we're going to see a challenge in the fall."

Banack said a dry summer could also hurt cattle operations, since crops provide pastures and space to forage.

Farmers have dealt with dry summer after dry summer, and last August some farmers contended with the driest soil in 50 years. Some farmers saw major hits to their crop yields, while some ranchers had to weigh whether or not to sell their livestock prematurely to recoup some costs. 

With files from Dave Gilson

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