Melting snow brings much needed moisture but also challenges to Alberta farms

With what seems like several winters’ worth of snow finally melting, the resulting moisture is a mixed blessing for farmers and ranchers around southern Alberta.

'Like the old story says, we’ve never had a crop failure in March'

Greg Hawkwood, who ranches cattle and farms north of Calgary, says an above average snowfall during the winter brings benefits and challenges in the springtime. (CBC)

With what seems like several winters' worth of snow finally melting, the resulting moisture is a mixed blessing for farmers and ranchers around southern Alberta.

For cattle producers, the meltwater is filling up dugouts and sloughs to give livestock drinking water for the season. But it's also making calving season more challenging, because newborn calves need to be kept dry.

The unusually large amount of accumulated snow this winter will help ranchers replenish water stores for their livestock. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

And for grain farmers, the moisture is a welcome start, but on the other hand, piles of snow lingering into late spring could delay seeding.

Greg Hawkwood, who farms and ranches in the Madden area northwest of Calgary, is focusing on the positive.

"Because last year was so dry, this snowfall has been a real bonus to all the farmers and ranchers," he said.

"Reason being, because now we're going to get a real good runoff, which we haven't had in a few years."

With calving underway, Hawkwood and other ranchers have had to use tractors to clear away snow and put down more straw than usual to give the animals dry places to lie down.

"Calves like to be dry, and that's what keeps them healthy. And with the snow melting … it's going to be a chore, but we've done it before, and that's life," he said. 

"So that's why we're hoping that we don't get any more snow."

Farmer and rancher Greg Hawkwood says he needs to keep moving the snow in order to have dry places for his cattle during calving season. (CBC)

Hawkwood says the snow in his fields is up to his knees. At this time last year, his land was brown.

"Calving was a breeze," he said.

Hawkwood says his main crop this year will be barley, but he doesn't expect to have it seeded by May 5 like he did last year.

"I think seeding will be a little bit delayed this year," he said. "It'll be tight. It'll be really tight."

The snowmelt moisture is a welcome way to start the spring, but only about 10 per cent of it will stay in the ground, Hawkwood said.

"You got to know that it's good moisture, it helps everybody, but for the grain farmer, all the snow doesn't do much," he said, adding that regular rainfall through the growing season is what counts.

"Like the old story says, we've never had a crop failure in March."

With above average snowfall in parts of Alberta this winter, many farmers and ranchers are gearing up for a lot of meltwater in the weeks ahead. (Dave Gilson/CBC)