Southern special crops coming off well despite storms

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Southern Alberta’s specialty crops have mostly done well this season, despite the occasional hailstorm and windstorm.

In Taber, David Jensen and his family were just finishing their sweet corn harvest Sept. 7. “It’s a really busy time,” he said. “For that six weeks, we start at 4 a.m. and we’re working till late every night. We harvest mechanically, but it’s graded by hand — cob by cob, counted and bagged and then trucked to sales locations across southern Alberta and even farther afield.”

Edible bean harvest began in early September, with some growers pulling off good yields. “Even most of the fields that were hailed quite badly have come back, although they’re far from hitting their yield potential,” said Owen Clelland of the Viterra Bean Plant in Taber. “Still most people have got some production out of them —1,000 or 1,500 lbs.”

Overall, Clelland expects an above-average crop, although it’s early yet. “Mould nicked some yields, though. We had a lot of dew and showery weather when the canopy was full or that little extra bit of watering was too much,” he said.

For some reason, Alberta’s bean-growing area has more challenges with mould than other areas of North America. Possibly, the mould spores — the same organism canola and sunflower growers call sclerotinia — is more plentiful because of the amount of canola that’s grown. “In the Dakotas they only seem to have a problem in wet years,” said Clelland. “If we could really figure a way to handle mould, we could pull off some fantastic yields.

Clelland said improved varie-ties have helped.

“The breeding program at Lethbridge has been good for us. We have upright varieties in every type now and almost no old-type floppy varieties.”

Clelland said prices have been good. “We’ve pre-sold some beans already at prices that mean 50 cents a pound to growers. I believe we’ll be able to average this year’s crop at 38 to 50 cents a pound.”

Sugar surplus

Sugar beet growers were only able to contract 24,000 acres this year, a big drop from last year’s 30,000. “After two very good crops, we have a surplus of sugar in Canada,” said Andrew Llewlyn-Jones of the Lantic Inc. plant in Taber.

He said a worldwide surplus has depressed prices. “So it’s quite a competitive market with companies fighting to supply the big buyers,” Llewlyn-Jones said. The beet growers are hoping trials of an industrial beet as an industrial fine chemical feedstock work out so they can develop new markets for their product.

Beet harvest doesn’t start until Lantic opens its receiving stations on Oct. 1. Llewlyn-Jones expects a very good average yield 24 or 25 tons per acre, despite the hail. “The hail completely defoliated some crops, but they’ve come back to some extent… they’re much better than they looked right after the storm.”

Ideal blight conditions

Most of the potatoes that were hailed out have recovered quite well, just a few fields won’t be harvested. Growers had to contend with late blight, though. “It was like a greenhouse all summer, hot and humid,” said Potato Growers of Alberta executive director Terence Hochstein. “Any time nighttime temperatures stay above 9 C, the blight fungus can incubate. But, we have a good forecasting to warn growers of disease and any time a grower has some issues, they let their neighbours know, so they can watch too. Fungicides are quite effective on late blight as long as you spray on time and rotate groups.”

The main crop, Russets, aren’t generally harvested until the second half of September, but chippers for Frito Lay and Hostess are coming off quite well and seed potato crops look good. “It’s been a good season, so far,” said Hochstein. “We’re quite optimistic. But you never really know until the storage is empty next June. Potatoes are unique; they’re still living when they go into storage, so harvest is not like storing grain that’s safe once it’s in the bin. You never know how you’ve made out till the storage is empty.”

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