Cold, wet weather delays central Alberta growing season

Six months after last year's harvest season, central Alberta farmers still can't clear their crops due to the wet, snowy weather.

'With this snow the last couple days, I think the quality will be downgraded pretty significantly'

Graham Jespersen's heavy machinery sits while he waits for the snow and water to melt so he can save what's left of last year's crops. (Graham Jespersen)

A wet harvest season led to plenty of insurance claims for unharvested crops in Alberta last year. And now more wet weather is preventing those same farmers from preparing their fields for another growing season.

Graham Jesperson's 300 acres of barley and alfalfa sits under a blanket of snow in Parkland County. Like many farmers in the county, he was forced to leave those crops in the field due to the wet weather.

But now those crops will have to go to make room for this year's seeds.

"With this snow the last couple days, I think the quality will be downgraded pretty significantly, but we'll just sort of have to wait and see if it starts to dry up a bit," said Jespersen, the owner of Glory View Farms. "We can take a closer look at what it looks like and we can make a decision from there."

Graham Jespersen's farmland in Parkland County is covered in snow and slush. (Supplied by Graham Jespersen)

He's planning to combine those crops when they're dry but if the quality isn't up to standard he'll use it as feed for his dairy cows, he said.

There were insurance claims for 960,000 unharvested acres in the province last year, significantly more than the annual average of 23,000 acres during the three years prior.

Of the 2,124 claims made in 2016, 1,184 were in central Alberta. Parkland County was the next hardest hit with 642 claims, according to a recent report issued by Agriculture Financial Services Corporation.

Agrologist Paul Muyres says the typical time to start seeding the ground is the first week of May, but that process can't begin until fields are clear and dry. But he's still optimistic that farmers will be seeding in time to meet their seasonal growing window.

"People get excited about the date on the calendar," said Muyres. "We're still in the middle of April. We have a long season to plant. 

"No one needs to panic just yet."

He recommends farmers wait until their soil dries before using heavy equipment to avoid getting it stuck in sloughs and pothole-like spots.