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2019 a 'disastrous' year for crop farmers in Alberta

Extreme weather and international market closures made 2019 a "disastrous" year for crop farmers in Alberta, the chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Association told a Red Deer conference Thursday.

'Alberta farmers will be relieved when the harvest from hell is behind them'

Working against weather is not a new challenge for farmers, but severe weather is happening more often and across bigger areas, reducing yields, degrading crop quality and delaying harvests, a farm conference heard Thursday. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Agriculture in Alberta, particularly the crop sector, is "not in a really great place right now," farmers at an agriculture conference in Red Deer were told Thursday.

Border closures to canola in China, pulse crops in India, durum wheat in Italy and barley in Saudi Arabia, plus weather challenges on the prairies have combined to make this year particularly difficult, said John Guelly, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Association.

The conference is hosted by Team Alberta, which represents four of the province's crop commissions: Alberta Barley, Alberta Canola, Alberta Pulse Growers and the Alberta Wheat Commission, representing about 20,000 farmers in Alberta according to Guelly.

Working against weather is not a new challenge for farmers, but severe weather is happening more often and across bigger areas, reducing yields, degrading crop quality and delaying harvests, he said.

Extreme weather has caused "heartbreaking" production losses in every farming community across the province, he said.

"2019 has been a disastrous year on our revenues," Guelly said. "Prices are probably the lowest we've seen in 15 years because of market disruptions.

"Alberta farmers will be relieved when the harvest from hell is behind them."

Extreme weather and closed markets have made 2019 a disastrous year for farmers, John Guelly, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Association told a conference in Red Deer Thursday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Some farmers have abandoned their crops in the field, leaving them until next spring, he said. Those crops may be lost entirely, Guelly added.

Saddle Hills County in northwest Alberta issued a news release Thursday declaring a municipal agricultural disaster.  Saddle Hills County is about 540 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

"In 2019, Saddle Hills County agricultural producers in all sectors faced a year of continuing challenges, culminating in a very wet fall and early snow causing much of the county to remain unharvested," it said. 

The declaration does not open up funding or allow for special relief for farmers, but is a show of support to farmers and is a "gateway" for the county to lobby federal and provincial governments on behalf of farmers, it said.

Losses in this year's harvest could total about $700 million, Devin Dreeshen, minister of agriculture and forestry, told the conference Thursday.

Crop reports indicate "some really big numbers" in terms of unharvested crops — about 20 per cent in central Alberta, and almost 40 per cent in the northern part of the province, Dreeshen said.

The government is "all ears" in terms of ideas on how it can help farmers, he said.

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