Alberta harvest better than expected, even as insurance payouts spike

The harvest is underway across the prairies and for many farmers in Alberta it is going better than anticipated.

Insurance payout could tally $900 million, nearly three times 2014 claims

Alberta farmer Humphrey Banack takes advantage of the warm fall weather to swath his crop near Round Hill, southeast of Edmonton this week. (Terry Reith/CBC)

The harvest is underway across the prairies and for many farmers in Alberta it's going better than anticipated.

"Today is a good place to be, because we are better than we expected to be," said Humphrey Banack, who was busy swathing his crop near Round Hill, southeast of Edmonton, this week.

This summer many areas in Alberta were hit by drought, leading several counties to declare an agricultural emergency.

The hot, dry growing season left the crop stunted and wilted, but the little rain that fell at the end of July saved many producers.

"Production was looking pretty bleak," Banack said. "We hadn't had a lot of rain in a long time, the crops were thin, the head sizes weren't big."
Humphrey Banack says his crops are better than he had hoped after a hot, dry summer. (CBC)

"I think there are a lot of producers that are doing a little better," he said. "Some are getting substantially less. It just depends on what spot you were at for the rain as it came forward."

Paul Muyres, an agronomist who studies soil conditions, said the rain wasn't the only thing that helped.

"I am actually pleasantly surprised how well the crop did considering how little rainfall we received and that is a testament to our ground moisture or sub soil moisture. We actually had a lot."

But drought wasn't the only problem this summer.

In southern Alberta, fields were pounded with hail and September rainfall drenched the standing crops, leaving them too wet to harvest.

"The quality of this grain has been eroded now, because it basically got rained on and the quality has been taking out of it," Muyres said.

While it may no longer be worth as much, at least it didn't freeze.

"We haven't seen a real killing frost here yet," Banack said "Those things are really helping that late crop come to maturity."

The provincial crown corporation, which handles crop insurance, reported it has already paid out more than $240 million in claims this year and believes the number could rise as high as $900 million, nearly three times what it paid out in 2014.

"If they can't get the crop off in time, that is going to significantly impact the quality and obviously our post-harvest claims could continue to increase as a result of that," said Nikki Booth, spokesperson for the Alberta Financial Services Corporation.

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