Calgary

Heat waves and drought conditions devastating for southern Alberta farmers

Southern Alberta farmers say consistently hot weather combined with little rain in the last few months has been devastating for their crops this year.

Farmers say they'll need to rely on insurance to see them through to next season

Southern Alberta farmer Richard Owen stands in the same spot in his barley field in July 2020 and July 2021. Farmers say heat waves and drought have devastated crops this year. (Kim Owen)

Southern Alberta farmers say consistently hot weather combined with little rain in the last few months has been devastating for their crops this year. 

In July 2020, Kim Owen took a photo of his father Richard Owen standing in one of their fields in Wrentham, Alta., with a crop growing above his waist. 

On Saturday, Kim snapped another photo of his father in the exact same spot but this time the earth was yellow and dried crops barely grazed Richard's ankles.

'We haven't had any significant rain'

"Last year, we had good rainfall. That picture was a 100-bushel barley crop," said Kim.

"We haven't had any significant rain here since probably May, no measurable amount anyway and the hot weather — 30-plus days for weeks on end — the crops, it's basically decimated them. So we're thinking maybe [we'll have] a 10-bushel crop."

This year, the farmer said he and many of his neighbours will need to rely on insurance to help them through to next year. 

"It's going to be tough times for sure," said Kim.

Rethinking water conservation and management

Shawn Marshall is a professor of geography at the University of Calgary. He said climate model projections show that as the Arctic warms, the Canadian prairies will also become hotter and drier. 

"As the years go on, there's going to need to be some adaptation in what we can farm and what's viable for agriculture in this area," he said. "I don't mean to sound, you know, extreme or doom and gloom about that. It's maybe not an immediate reaction, but it's coming."

Marshall said Alberta also need to improve water conservation and management practices.

"It might be that irrigation districts need to expand and we need to think about underground, subsurface water storage or some sort of water storage to actually act in the way that the glaciers serve us now."

'It's devastating'

Kache Miller owns KJM Farms near Raymond, which stretches down to near the U.S. border. 

He said this year his best crops will likely produce only 30 per cent of an average yield.

"It's devastating. We've spent a lot of money on high-priced inputs this year and the other thing that's happened is both inputs and commodity prises have risen and now we've missed out on that opportunity because we have no crop," he said. 

Now, Miller said, in addition to the heat and drought, farmers in the area have another problem on the horizon. 

"Grasshoppers are moving into our area now and are starting to damage what little crop we have," he said. 

Miller said he's hopeful for relief aid from the government. 

Last week, the federal and provincial government said they were collaborating on recovery efforts to help farmers survive the harvest. 

Devin Dreeshen, Alberta's minister of agriculture and forestry, confirmed Thursday that the province is working through the details with the federal government for an AgriRecovery program. 

AgriRecovery is a cost-shared program that provides emergency support in cases of natural disaster with the federal government taking on 60 per cent of the cost with the remainder covered by provinces. Provinces submit requests to the federal government to activate the program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

With files from Natasha Riebe

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