Keith Degenhardt thought last year’s harvest was bad. But then 2016 came along.
The pedigreed seed grower from Hughenden estimated only about 60 per cent of the acres in east-central Alberta had been harvested by the end of October.
“People have ordered dryers and some are putting crops in bags in hopes that they will be able to get it into a dryer afterward,” said Degenhardt, who farms with his wife, son and daughter-in-law.
In a good year, he usually finishes his harvest in late September or early October, depending on the size of his crop. But snow and intermittent showers kept him off his fields.
He isn’t alone. Just 73 per cent of the harvest had been completed by the last week of October, said Mark Cutts, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture’s Ag Info Centre in Stettler.
It’s especially frustrating for producers since good moisture conditions in June and July had raised the prospect of bumper crops across the Prairies.
“Some of the fields that we’ve taken off have had yields outside the norm, and they are some of the best yields we’ve seen,” said Degenhardt. “The problem is that we still don’t have all the crop off.”
It will mean a significant economic hit, but the impact in Alberta hasn’t been estimated yet, said Cutts.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier said his government is “committed to supporting our farm families” but suggested that producers will have to count on crop insurance to cover their losses.
“We take this issue seriously,” Carlier said in an email. “That’s why our government has taken a proactive approach by providing Alberta producers with business risk management programs through the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation.”
Harvesting in spring
Some producers are dealing with so much moisture and snow that they might not be able to get their crop off this fall, and will have to wait and combine next spring. That will not only have a big impact on yield and quality, but affect next year’s seeding schedule, said Cutts.
“Instead of seeding, you’ll have to finish combining and that will potentially set things backward in terms of dealing with the crop for 2017,” he said.
The situation varies across the province. In the central, northeast and northwest areas of the province, about 30 to 45 per cent of the crop still needs to be brought in. Producers in the south are the furthest along as they were the first to start harvesting. But the Peace River region is better off than some of areas to the south. Producers in the Peace still had about 20 per cent of crop in the fields in the last week in October.
“Hopefully we get some stretches of weather that allows combines to get back into the field,” said Cutts. “Producers are just waiting and hoping that the weather does turn for them and allows them to get into the field.”
But warm weather in November is hard to come by and that’s what is needed after all the moisture this fall.
Stop and start
Along with the rain and snow, the shortage of warm fall days hurt.
That was the story at Degenhardt’s place. Every time it rained, he would have to wait two to three days to let the crops dry. He would then only get two to three days of combining before another round of showers.
East-central Alberta has some advantages compared to other regions, since there are cattle and hogs in the area, and they can make use of the crops for feed. The ethanol facilities in nearby Lloydminster and Unity also take some high-moisture grains
Producers with lots of acres and drier land in east-central Alberta were taking off tough grain in September and October and drying it. Other producers have started putting their grain into air bins, and are taking grain off at 24 to 25 per cent, which is wet, not just tough.
“In our area, when you get into a bad harvest like this and you get into October or November, there is a lot of tough grain taken off at lower temperatures and then it is put in bins,” said Degenhardt.
This grain will need to be moved from one bin into another so that the temperature will stay constant.
“You need to be constantly working with that grain, turning it, trying to get it in place where you can actually get it in the dryer and dry it,” said Degenhardt. “It won’t keep for any length of time unless our temperatures are below freezing. Then you have a possibility of keeping it. But that requires constant monitoring if you want to take it off at that moisture.”
“Plan A is to get the crop off,” added Cutts. “Plan B is figuring out how to manage those crops when they’re in the bin because of the moisture.
“A month ago, I never would have thought we’d be having this conversation. We had a pretty tough October and I hope we get a window here sooner or later to allow producers to get back onto the field.”