It was a September that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
“Harvest is at a standstill and it’s been that way for about three weeks now,” Alberta Wheat chair Kevin Bender said as the month came to a close. “For the most part, guys haven’t been able to turn a wheel yet.”
Bender, who farms near Bentley in central Alberta, has had three snowfalls, plus rain, by the end of September.
“That created some issues too, where it flattened down a lot of crops. It’s going to be more difficult harvesting and quality is going to be less than it would be if it was standing.”
The Peace region has also had snow, but Bender hasn’t heard how harvest is progressing up there.
According to Alberta Agriculture’s Sept. 25 crop report, Peace farmers had harvested about 16 per cent of their spring wheat, 14 per cent of their barley, and three per cent of their canola. The numbers were just as dismal — or even worse — for the northeast and northwest regions of the province.
“About here, we’re a quarter done, and that’s where our neighbours are, too,” said Bender. “There’s the odd guy who hasn’t started yet and the odd one who is half done. I’d say a quarter done is probably the average for what has been completed yet.”
He’s spoken to a colleague in Calmar who is only 10 per cent done.
“There’s some areas where they are probably struggling as bad as we are,” he said. “In 2016, we lost pretty much the whole month of October. This year, it’s been September and hopefully we get a good October and even into November this year.”
Alberta Barley chair Jason Lenz has been keeping in touch with his directors, who are spread throughout the province, and aside from those in the south, he hasn’t heard much in the way of good news.
“I guess, as expected, it’s been a mixed bag for sure,” said Lenz, who farms southwest of Bentley.
“As you work north, I think, in the central Alberta region, I’m hearing a lot about those guys being 30 per cent completed.”
In its Sept. 25 report, Alberta Ag said the central region has harvested the majority of its dry peas, about 45 per cent of its spring wheat, and about 41 per cent of its barley.
But Lenz is hearing some producers in Vegreville, Camrose, and Vermilion haven’t even begun to harvest yet. And producers in the Peace are lagging behind because they’re dealing with water laying in the fields, mud and ruts.
“It’s not a good story to tell overall, considering there hasn’t been much done everywhere in the last three weeks,” he said.
Lenz himself has had some pretty big dumps of snow. He experienced storms in the second week of September, and the snow melted as it came down. But another, bigger snowstorm lodged his wheat crops and even some of his standing canola crops.
“The last one really did some damage to the crops as far as pushing them down and lodging them,” he said.
He has experienced snow in four of the last five Septembers.
“I hope this isn’t the new normal,” he said.
The long stretch of cold, wet weather is raising anxiety levels for many producers, he said.
The weather has also affected the quality of the crop. The frost is hurting the wheat that is still in the ground.
“The longer it stays wet, it definitely downgrades the wheat. It bleaches the kernels out and it’s just not ideal conditions,” he said.
Malt barley will also be downgraded if it’s still out in the field.
“It’s been too long a stretch of wet weather that there is definitely going to be some chitting that happens in the malt and it’s going to affect it as much as anything,” he said.
D’Arcy Hilgartner, chair of the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, is in the same boat as Lenz and Bender.
“For the last 2-1/2 to three weeks, a lot of guys in Alberta haven’t moved a lot,” he said. “What they are taking off is quite tough. They’re drying it, with mixed results. Guys are taking off wheat with 22 to 24 per cent moisture.”
Canola is at about 16 per cent moisture, which is doable, but there are costs associated with that, said the Camrose-area producer.
“Peas and lentils, you can take them off tougher to a point, where you tend not to want to thresh but crush instead,” he said. “You typically take peas off a little bit on the tougher side. You like to do it that way, because they’re less likely to be damaged and then you aerate them or blow them dry to finish them.”
Most producers will do peas first as snow tends to push pulse crops down to the ground, which doesn’t help them to dry when the weather improves.
“This is way more snow in September than I’m used to,” said Hilgartner, who had managed to get his peas and barley off, but not his wheat, canola, flax, and fababeans.
The snow, rain, cooler temperature and combination of wet crop and wet soil have all proved challenging.
“When we do get a bit of heat like we had a few days ago, the first thing that will dry is that soil. As the plant dries and the soil dries, it kind of sucks up moisture coming from the ground,” he said in late September.
“We need some wind and we need some sun.”
Hilgartner has been using a grain dryer for the third year in a row.
“There’s costs with drying grain, in a year like this when commodity prices are depressed, it just adds to the stress level,” he said. “It just makes for tighter margins.”