By Rebecca Tokariuk | Lantic Inc Agriculturist
As with many other growing regions, Canadian sugarbeet farmers struggled through a series of setbacks in the 2019 season. Seeding in started early this year, with seed going into the ground on April 8th for our 28,000 contracted acres. We were struck with a series of frost events between April 27-30th. Fortunately, less than 500 acres were reseeded. Irrigation was not available until the first week of May for some regions, delaying the completion of seeding until the middle of the month. The season was very cool well into June. Row closure was evident in most fields in early July. Later in the summer, we experienced more characteristic weather, warm sunny days with minimal precipitation. We did not receive the smoke coverage in July-August as we did in 2017 and 2018. Cumulative rainfall was again below average, and producers struggled to keep up with water demands. A significant hailstorm rolled through the area on August 6th, throwing golf-ball sized hail and bringing strong wind gusts up to 146kph (90mph), according to Environment Canada. Most of our growers in the Taber and Picture Butte areas were significantly affected, with anywhere from 50-100% defoliation.
Early harvest began on September 13. Harvest was slow due to rain events delaying growers from completing other crops. For the fourth year in a row, main harvest was set to begin October 1st, but instead saw a significant winter event on this day. Temperatures dipped down to -16ºC (3.2ºF), and 2 feet of snow covered the province. Fortunately, the beets were sheltered by the canopy and snow cover. It took almost 10 days for the snow to melt and the grounds to dry before we were dealt another frost event on October 11th. Again, temperatures dipped down to approximately -13ºC (8.6ºF). Harvest resumed under a ‘controlled harvest’ approach. Beets were brought in as needed, and every load was assessed. Eventually the grounds were opened to pile for medium-term storage. Fifty-five percent of the crop was brought in before a third and final frost event of -16ºC (3.2ºF) brought the harvest season to an end. A lack of protective canopy and 75 percent frost damage to roots rendered the season unsalvageable. Alberta’s 2019 producers grew yet another phenomenal crop. We are sure that it would have rivaled the yields of 2018, had the outcome been different. We are proud of the dedication and determination of our growers and Agriculture Department, and look forward to 2020 for redemption for this season. –