Little critters causing big problems for Alberta crops

CNS Canada — They may look cute and harmless, but gophers have been wreaking havoc on crops across Alberta.

Gophers have been reported causing problems in southern, central and northeastern Alberta for canola crops and pastures, according to the provincial Crop Report.

“It’s been dry again this year and that triggered them; it’s been quite a problem,” said Phil Merrill, Alberta Agriculture’s pest specialist in Lethbridge.

Cereal crops have seen some damage; however they are able to outgrow the gophers before too much damage is done, Merrill said.

Canola crops don’t seem to be as lucky. “It’s very hard on canola crops,” Merrill said.

“It’s also devastating for pastures as far as mounding and damage to the pasture… for driving across it and machinery and stuff like that.”

Due to the dry spring last year, he said he expected gophers might rear their little heads, but producers seem to have been caught off guard.

“We tried to get the message out, but I don’t know how successful we were… at this point it’s too late to control (the gophers) with bait, that has to be done in March or April.”

Crops in Saskatchewan have avoided any damage so far, but have seen an increase in gopher population due to drier conditions, said Scott Hartley, pest management specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture in Regina.

“One of the things that seems to keep (the gopher) population down is a good spring runoff,” said Hartley.

“When that runoff is coming they’re wet and cold, and there isn’t enough of a reasonable food source for them to keep body heat… Last winter there wasn’t a huge amount of runoff so that’s part of it.”

Manitoba crops have also escaped the tiny jaws of gophers, which isn’t abnormal, said Rejean Picard, farm production advisor with Manitoba Agriculture at Somerset, Man.

“In my 28 years I’ve never seen a (gopher) epidemic,” Picard said. “Sometimes you see them take up a corner of a crop here and there, but this year I’ve heard no reports of any issues.”

Erin DeBooy writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow her at @ErinDeBooy on Twitter.

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