Weekend rainfall a blessing for Alberta's agricultural industry

Rain makes grain: although a rainy May long weekend may have put a damper on camping plans, it's been a blessing for Alberta's parched crops.

The rain came just in time for central Alberta crops, farmer says

Heavy rain over the May long weekend came just in time, a farmer says. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

A rainy May long weekend may have put a damper on camping plans, but it's been a blessing for Alberta's parched crops.

On Saturday and Sunday alone, Edmonton received as much precipitation as it has in the past six months, including snowfall, said Stan Blade, dean of the University of Alberta's Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences.

"It's a fantastic start to have this kind of rainfall, we've all been waiting for it. This spring was so good as far as early seeding. Farmers across Alberta got out early, they seeded their crops, and then it was like hitting the pause button because it was so dry," Blade said.

"The weekend has been just exactly what we were hoping for."

Last year, the Alberta government declared an agricultural disaster after a spring drought and hail in the summer affected around 80 per cent of Alberta farmers, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims.

The weekend has been just exactly what we were hoping for.- Stan Blade, dean, U of A Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences

Blade said the rain this weekend came at the perfect time and will ensure crops like canola, barley, wheat and even perennial crops like hay, grow more evenly.

"What we've seen in the last two or three days will put our crop in a very good shape for this time of the growing season," he said.

'Rain makes grain'

Grain farmer Humphrey Banack said this weekend's downpour was a "godsend" for his farm in Round Hill, around 90 kilometres southeast of Edmonton. He had seen barely any precipitation on his farm since the snow melted in February.

"Rain makes grain.This will get a good start," Banack said. "It's going to make a huge difference to Alberta as a whole. For agriculture, it's ... a billion dollar rain."

Banack said he's already invested close to a million dollars in this year's crops, but it all depends on rain.

"We were seeding canola last week and we knew it was not going to grow until it rained," he said.

"But it doesn't grow in the bag so you might as well put it in the field and wait for the water."

Banack said until this weekend, optimism was low in the farming community after a tough summer last year.

The rain is also a huge benefit to the cattle industry. Banack said he knows cattle producers who were running short on feed, but rainfall will allow them to turn cattle out to grass.

Parkland County farmer Graham Jesperson typically sells up to 70 per cent of his grain. But last year's dry conditions mean he had to use every bit of his small yield to keep his own operation going. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Rain welcomed across Alberta

The dry spring so far also had him nervous, Blade said, especially since it didn't rain in significant portions of Alberta until the middle of July last year.

With the help of the rain, producers can now also take advantage of conservation tillage and fertilization so crops reach their potential into July and August, Blade explained.

He said it will be important for the rain to continue through the spring and summer. And it's not just farmers who understand how important this is — the rain and cooler temperatures are being welcomed by those fighting the 18 wildfires that continue to burn in the province, including the Fort McMurray wildfire. 

"It's not often on long weekends people are looking for significant amounts of moisture," Blade said.

"But what I've seen everywhere is that people understand the situation and even our friends and colleagues in urban environments understand how important this rain is to Alberta."

With files from Ariel Fournier