Edmonton

'Crops are drowning': Lac Ste. Anne declares agricultural disaster

Following a summer of heavy rain and overland flooding, Lac Ste. Anne County, northwest of Edmonton, is declaring a state of agricultural disaster.

'This is what farmers have to live with. You don't know if it's going to rain or snow'

Lac Ste. Anne County declared an agricultural disaster on Wednesday, ensuring that farmers with insurance can seek compensation for their losses. (Lac Ste. Anne County)

Following a summer of heavy rain and flooding, Lac Ste. Anne County is declaring a state of agricultural disaster.

"I've farmed for 60 years and I've never seen this," Onoway-area farmer Dennis Potter said, standing in a 120-acre field that's one-third underwater. "We're three weeks from harvest and it's got to change a lot."

He said the oat field has received 16 to 18 inches of rain in the last two months. Even if the rain stops immediately he expects to harvest only half the crop.

If the rain continues? "We won't have a crop this year. Nothing."

In a statement, county officials said the wet summer has been dire for farmers and ranchers northwest of Edmonton.

The declaration, made by council on Wednesday, will ensure producers with insurance can seek compensation for their losses. 

"While various degrees of damage exist throughout the municipality, almost all crop has been affected by current moisture conditions in a negative manner," the county said. 

"There is increasing desperation among the farmers and ranchers within Lac Ste. Anne County as they continue to watch the daily accumulation of rainfall further inhibit the 2019 crop year." 

'Water-logged fields' 

The relentless rainfall has caused "incorrigible damage" to crops, the county said. The harvest is expected to be a meager one.  

The wet conditions have also prevented many local producers from harvesting feed for their livestock, the county said. The feed that has been harvested is of poor quality. 

 

This is the worst I've seen it. ​​​-Stacy Berry

Stacy Berry, assistant manager of agricultural services for the county, about 100 kilometres west of Edmonton, said there is growing concern about crop failure. 

The winter was brutally cold resulting in winterkill for feed crops such as alfalfa. Smoke from wildfires and cooler temperatures stunted growth this spring.

The heavy rains have been the final blow.

"This is the worst I've seen it," she said. "We have tons of acres that are underwater and crops are drowning. We are seeing upwards of 80 per cent mortality in some of these fields." 

The county declared an agricultural disaster last year after a wet summer followed by a snowy harvest. 

Onoway-area farmer Dennis Potter stands in a 120-acre field of oats, one-third of which is underwater. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

 An agricultural disaster was also declared in November 2016, when another early snowstorm prevented farmers from harvesting crops.

"Their stocks are running low and so, in many cases, farmers were starting at zero and relying on this year to replenish," Berry said. "We haven't had the growth that we needed. 

"Because we went into the season already poor and stretched quite thin, we're moving faster on it this year."

The crops are basically sitting in mud. ​​​​- Paul Muyres

The rain has left farmers across central and northern Alberta in a bind, said Paul Muyres, owner of Solid Ground Solutions, an independent agronomy company based in Leduc.

Muyres said some fields are so waterlogged crops are rotting. He expects there will be shortages of hay and other feed crops throughout the winter. 

"When you get seven, 10 inches of rain, and we've had significantly more than that, those rains build up really quickly," Muyres said. "The plants can't use them and the soil can't absorb it, so it just creates large pool. 

"The crops are basically sitting in mud, the roots can't breathe, the plants can't breathe and subsequently the plants die."

Muyres said many producers across the province are expecting poor harvests. 

Some areas in southern Alberta are recovering from hail storms or are dealing with persistent drought-like conditions.

"This isn't that unusual," Muyres said. "There are cycles of wet and dry, and we're in just one of those years where we're seeing significant rains.

"This is what farmers have to live with. You don't know if it's going to rain or snow, or if it's going to be dry."  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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