The area from Leduc, Camrose and Wetaskawin to Ponoka, Lacombe and Red Deer could definitely use more moisture. It was really dry there last year and the late-April storms have only given them about an inch of rain.”
Maybe the old-timers are right. Many areas had fog in February and around 90 days later most of the province had significant precipitation. The storms have brought a brighter outlook to most of the province. The Peace, which the storms didn’t reach, and the mountain south, where rain followed by heavy snow was too much for new calves, are the exceptions.
Joe Michielsen travels the province for Alberta Agriculture assessing soil moisture at sites in every region. He says the picture has changed dramatically in the last few weeks almost everywhere in the province. “Moisture looks good almost everywhere,” he said May 13. “The only exception is the Peace country and the weather forecasters are predicting some moisture there in the next few days.”
Gilbert Goudreau, manager of adjustment services AFSC’s Hail and Crop Insurance section, said the old adage still holds. “We’ve never lost a crop in May.”
“This rain is just great, “ he said. “The ground’s been too cool until now for seeding, the crop wouldn’t get going anyway. Now, the challenge will be to get it all in by 24th of May. And, it could be tough to get the crop off.”
Goudreau isn’t concerned about the Peace country yet. His adjusters have been up there dealing with wildlife damage on last year’s crop that they weren’t able to harvest until this spring. Other areas haven’t had a lot of moisture from recent storms.
“There are still some dry spots,” he said. “Usually, we’re concerned about east-central areas, but they got some moisture in April. The area from Leduc, Camrose and Wetaskawin to Ponoka, Lacombe and Red Deer could definitely use more moisture. It was really dry there last year and the late-April storms have only given them about an inch of rain.”
Less is better, for now
AgroClimatic Information Services (ACIS) specialist Ralph Wright agrees. Interviewed March 13, he said his map of growing-season precipitation showed most of the rain east of No. 2 highway, but areas that have had least moisture are those that usually have too much.
“The wettest parts of the province got the least moisture from recent storms,” he said. “West of No. 2, and northwest of Edmonton, they average 350 to 500 mm of moisture. Less than normal can be an advantage. Seeding in the Peace is well ahead of normal.”
Wright does have some concerns about the long-term drought situation. The 365-day precipitation map shows virtually the whole province in a “moisture deficit” situation.
There wasn’t much rain or snow in the last year and that’s a problem for lakes, potholes and wetlands as well as dugouts and pasture conditions. The spring moisture we have now will give pastures and cropland a good start but wetlands, lakes and sloughs need more.
The long-term moisture shortage has left some areas of the Peace and east-central Alberta very dry, with parched pastures and worse, empty dugouts.
At Oyen, in the Special Areas, rain and snow in April and early May has been “ a very big stress reliever,” Wright said. It’s been drier than people can remember in a long time. Most areas had some rain last year, but the rains came too late for the hay and this winter cattlemen have fed hay they’ve saved from other years or had to buy feed. April’s storms have been very welcome.
“We didn’t get a great deal of moisture out of the mid-April snow storm,” says Dianne Westerlund of Chinook Applied Research Association. “The ground was so dry it just soaked up all the moisture. We don’t have enough to make a hay crop yet, but it has greened up the grass. There was no runoff from the April storms, so dugouts are still a concern. East of Youngstown quite a few ranchers had to haul water for their cattle last summer and they don’t have water in them yet. Further west, there was more rain last summer and they’re in good shape. We can seed now and the pastures and hay have a start, but we’re hoping for more rains.”
You can look at exactly how much moisture there is and has been on the web by going to Alberta Agriculture’s site and searching for ACIS (Agro-Climatic Information Services) and looking at station data or maps. You can even ask for a graph of changes over time, so you can see when there was rain or snow and its effect on soil moisture.