Rain has come, but drought-stricken producers say it's too little, too late

EDMONTON -- Some areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan are finally getting rain, but it will probably be too little too late for many producers who have already suffered through a cold, dry spring.

EDMONTON -- Some areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan are finally getting rain, but it will probably be too little too late for many producers who have already suffered through a cold, dry spring.

Andrew Peden, 48, whose family has farmed an area east of Edmonton for the last 106 years, spent Tuesday morning showing a crop insurance adjuster his drought-damaged canola crop.

He's been forced to write off 365 hectares of canola after drought conditions and a cool spring prevented the proper growth of the plants.

"They've finally germinated, but it's way too late to make a viable canola crop now," he said from his farm near Minburn, Alta. "To try and get a crop now, you'd have to be frost-free until the end of October. What are the odds? Not likely."

The 161 hectares of peas planted likely won't grow tall enough to be harvested and his wheat yields will likely be poor this year, he said.


That only leaves payments from crop insurance to get him through the rest of the year.

"Crop insurance helps but it definitely doesn't provide a very good living. It covers the bills but that's about it."

Daniel Itenfisu, a soil moisture expert at Alberta Agriculture, said over the past few days, there has been between 20 and 45 millimetres of rain in some southern and central regions of the province.

But areas near the Saskatchewan boundary, including Lloydminster, Provost, Wainwright and Bonnyville have only received between 5 and 10 millimetres and remain quite dry.

What farmers really need across the province is a slow, steady and prolonged rain to restore moisture levels deep in the ground.

"The deep soil moisture is completely depleted. We need more precipitation, no doubt about that," Itenfisu said.

Rain also fell Tuesday in some areas of Saskatchewan, but it may be too late to help some of the hardest hit areas, said Greg Marshall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

In areas in the western part of the province, near Kindersley, crops are ruined. In other areas of the province, farmers are glad they're getting some moisture, he said.


"They're really welcoming the rain, it will help with development for sure, although yields will be down this year provincewide, I would think."

The rain may also help cattle producers if it makes the grass in their pastures grow.

Many livestock producers have been forced to feed their animals hay or other feed crops because it's been too dry.

"I think 49 per cent of our hay crop has been suffering," Marshall said.

Chad MacPherson, general manager of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, said there may be some challenges ahead.

"There will be some major winter feed shortages," he said.

Even in areas where soil moisture has been average, hay crops have been hurt by frost and cool temperatures this spring so yields will be down significantly, MacPherson said.

Kevin Boon, with the Alberta Beef Producers, was thrilled with the soaking rain that fell on his farm near Tomahawk, west of Edmonton. Ranchers may get another chance to cut a hay crop later this year because of it, he said.


The moisture would really help cereal crops, which may end up being used for feed this winter.

Farmers growing such crops might consider putting them up for animal feed, if crop insurance officials were more lenient with them -- and his group is having discussions with those officials, he said.

This latest drought, poor growing conditions and the continuing fallout from the effects of mad cow disease has some producers on the brink of giving up, Boon said.

"We're going to see some of the smaller and some of the older producers saying, 'enough is enough', sell the herd and won't restock," he said.

It's also eating into the equity that producers have built up in their farms, which many planned to use as a retirement nest egg, Boon said.

"We're seeing the farmer having to be older and older in order to sustain because he doesn't have the resources to turn it over to kids or get out easily."

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