Peace Plagued By Both Drought And Rain – for Oct. 11, 2010

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AF CONTRIBUTOR |GRANDE PRAIRIE

Drought conditions across northwestern Alberta put paid to any thoughts of high yields and good grades, despite producers getting off to one of their best starts in years, said Dave Wong, Alberta Agriculture market specialist.

“We had a heavy snowfall in late May, which really saved us since it brought much-needed moisture to soils that suffered drought conditions for the past three to four years,” he said.

But it turned out that May’s snowfall would be the last time producers here would see any significant amounts of precipitation over the growing season. September rains did shower the district and will help parched Peace soils in the long run, said Wong. Coming when they did, the rain was more of a hindrance than anything else as farmers worked to harvest poor crops, he said.

“Harvest is wrapping up across the Peace, yields and grades are down across the board.”

There is one exception, in the La Crete and Fort Vermillion areas.

“Crops up there are exceptional,” said Wong. “They had average moisture conditions going into summer, whereas the rest of the Peace was basically dry.”

Early harvests of wheat came in at grades 1 or 2, between 50 to 60 bushels an acre.

As for the rest of the Peace, things are a lot less favourable, especially in the Fairview and Hines Creek areas. Up until the end of August, Wong said some areas had recorded only a half-inch of precipitation all summer. Wong estimates harvest operations across the Peace will be 90 per cent done if the weather forecast holds true to the end of the first week of October. Some producers in the Falher area are already putting their combines away.

“We’ll probably still be finished earlier than last year, when producers got hit with heavy September rains and didn’t get harvesting started until October,” he said.

The Peace produces a lot of canola, and though this year’s grades will be better than their southern counterparts, yields will be below average– about 20 to 25 bushels an acre, Wong said. Barley is running between 30 to 60 bushels an acre across northwestern Alberta, excluding the La Crete areas. On average, producers are seeing between 40 to 45 bushels an acre.

Oats are coming in between 50 to 60 bushels an acre; some as high as 80 but a whole lot in the 30 to 40 range, Wong said

“The amount of September rainfall will determine if they’ll make pony grade.”

Producers started harvesting peas at the beginning of August and were bringing in No. 1 grades, he said.

“This stuff went into the ground the middle of April so we were about three weeks ahead of normal.”

Wong said the average yield across the Peace for peas is about 30 bushels an acre, with widespread variation between 15 and 50.

The Peace is known for its creeping red fescue, but those production numbers this year are bleak too, said Wong.

“We’re about 80 per cent of normal,” he said. “The total acreage is way down, on average by half. Usually we seed about 120,000 acres of creeping red fescue and this year we’re less than 70,000.

“Farmers opted for alternative cash crops with better prices like canola after fescue prices were hammered by the global economic recession.”

Pest problems were variable this season. Grasshoppers in the Falher, Donnelly and Falher areas decimated hay crops; cutworms in timothy fields didn’t help. Now Peace producers are worried about the very low soil moisture conditions.

“We’re in worse shape than last year,” said Wong.

Still, Wong said, it can turn around quickly.

“Most of the rest of Alberta was the driest it’s been in 45 years, and look what happened in the south and central regions this year,” he noted.

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DAVE WONG

Harvestiswrappingup acrossthePeace,yields andgradesaredown acrosstheboard.”

ALBERTA AGRICULTURE MARKET SPECIALIST

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