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Alberta farmers race against Mother Nature to salvage harvest while warm weather holds

An estimated 25 per cent of Alberta's crops are still in the fields, but farmers just north of Calgary have been gifted a narrow window of opportunity by Mother Nature to rectify that — and now they're hustling to save what they can.

'Everybody's just trying to get as much done as we can,' says farmer after unexpected early snow and rain

Alberta farmers embrace warm weather, race against Mother Nature to salvage what crops they can before snow hits

5 years ago
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After a wet and stormy summer, some Alberta farmers are racing against Mother Nature to salvage what crops they can before the next snow hits 0:29

An estimated 25 per cent of Alberta's crops are still unharvested, but farmers just north of Calgary have been gifted a narrow window of opportunity by Mother Nature to rectify that, and now they're hustling to save what they can.

Early snow and heavy downpours disrupted this year's harvest plans in many regions.

In Madden, Alta., farmer Greg Hawkwood's wheat crop was blanketed by snow just a few weeks ago.

"The weather has changed for us now, as you can see. It's blue sky, and we got a very strong Chinook wind. That is really, really helping out the grain farmers around," Hawkwood said.

His and many of the surrounding fields are buzzing with activity as combine drivers hustle to salvage as much barley, canola and wheat as possible before the next snow hits.

"Mother Nature is our boss, and whatever she throws at us, we just deal with it," Hawkwood said. 

After a wet and stormy summer, Alberta farmers race against Mother Nature to salvage what crops they can before the next snow hits. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Downgraded to feed quality

Calvin Bushfield works on a combine crew in Madden and says that if the weather holds over the next four days, his team should be able to clear a handful of fields in the area. 

"Everybody's just trying to get as much done as we can," he said.

But despite the last-minute blitz, he and many farmers like him are still bracing themselves for big financial losses.

"Because it's been laid down for so long, and we've had all the moisture and the snow and that stuff, we've lost grade on it. It'll probably end up as a feed wheat," Hawkwood said.

Most farmers price and budget their farming operation on number one grade grain, Hawkwood said, so the significant drop in quality is a hard pill to swallow. 

"You hear rumours out there that a lot of the banks are getting nervous now, because a lot of the farmers now, this is the time when they sit down with their banker and plan for next year," Hawkwood said.

Scott Hawkwood works with his father, Greg, to clear the fields on their family farm before the warm November weather turns. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Dire news further north

This past week, two Edmonton-area counties declared states of agricultural disaster because of the impact of wet weather on their crops

"It's not surprising, especially when maybe within those counties over 50 per cent of the crop is not harvested," said Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.

"If they have unharvested crops, then the payout under crop insurance regulations will basically be next spring. That's gonna cause a financial crunch for a lot of people."

Jacobson said every producer's situation will be different, but younger producers burdened by higher debt loads will be hit harder than those who have been in the business for decades.

"Is it dire for some people? Yes, it will be, for some people. Other people will be okay."

Damp conditions last fall prevented many Alberta farmers from harvesting their crops before winter. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

With files from the CBC's Dave Gilson

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