Edmonton

Making hay while the sun doesn't shine: Alberta weather takes toll on farmers

For one of Alberta's largest industries, the rain in the capital region doesn't just ruin summer vacation — it has the potential to meddle with their livelihood. One Leduc County farmer is crossing her fingers for continued sunshine.

'We would not expect to see this amount of rain within the next 50 years'

Alberta farmer Kim Ducherer says rainy weather puts her hay crop at risk. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Kim Ducherer is working against two unstoppable forces: weather and time.

Despite a few recent days of high heat in the capital region, the long stretch of rain over the past couple of weeks has taken a toll on farmers like her.

Earlier this week, Ducherer was working overtime to take advantage of the fleeting heat to dry and harvest her hay before it gets rained on — again.

The precipitation isn't hugely problematic for some grain crops, she said, but soaked fields are bad news for hay which takes at least four days to cut, rake and bale. 

It can't be wet or it will spoil.

"We haven't had four or five days straight of warm weather," Ducherer told CBC News. "We just really need the sun to start showing up for us."

Kim Ducherer says her crops have been hit with rain and hail over the past week. (Supplied by Kim Ducherer)

In a normal year, Ducherer aims to harvest the first crop of hay from her Leduc County fields around July 1, followed by a second harvest near the end of the season.

The recent stretch of rain and some hail has pushed back her schedule and she's worried she won't meet her goal of 5,000 bales — half to feed her cattle and half to sell. 

"We haven't even made a dent in what we need to," she said. "We need that income on our farm in order to keep everything going."

During the hot days before the return of Wednesday's rain, Ducherer rushed to rake all of her hay, hoping it would get enough sunshine to dry out for baling.

"If this stays down and gets rained on, then the quality of the hay starts to diminish," she said Tuesday, looking at the long, fluffy swaths of hay.

"Baling wet hay causes it to heat [and] can cause it to light on fire. But otherwise it just spoils and then it turns into bad feed, so you've wasted all your time and your efforts ... and your resources."

'A one year in 50 event'

Parts of the province are experiencing dry conditions but there's been an excessive amount of moisture from Edmonton to Cold Lake, Alberta Agriculture said.

"This is a very unusual year for the central part of the province to get this amount of moisture," said Barry Yaremcio, a beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

"It is a one year in 50 event, so we would not expect to see this amount of rain within the next 50 years."

Sun and wind dried the top of this swath of hay, but the underside was still moist. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

In addition to reducing hay quality and pushing harvest timelines, Yaremcio said using farm equipment on wet soil can create ruts that destroy fields.

"Overall, farmer stress has been very high this year," he said.

"With all this extra moisture, the farmers not being able to get in the fields to harvest the hay and how they're going to feed their cows this winter — it's been a nightmare for these people."

Farmers can buy insurance for rainfall or production deficiencies but Yaremcio said he isn't aware of any insurance for excessive precipitation.

Ducherer said constantly crossing her fingers for good weather is highly stressful, but there's nothing she can do about it.

"We are governed by Mother Nature," she said. "That is basically who tells us what we are going to do every single day."

Despite Monday's scorching heat, parts of Ducherer's field were still wet Tuesday morning. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

About the Author

Anna McMillan

Journalist

Anna McMillan is a reporter at CBC Edmonton. You can reach her at anna.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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