By Calgary Herald
Mixed year for Alberta agriculture
It isn't just the Maritimes and Saskatchewan that are reeling from the weather; now growers in Alberta are sharing their concerns and worries about crops that have been battered significantly or are left to cope against conditions between now and the harvest.
Calgary, AB — The hot weather beating down on Alberta last week has really moved the crops along at Dwayne Marshman's farm near Carbon, Alta.
Though Marshman seeded his 700 hectares of wheat, canola and feed barley right on time this year, the crops are a good week behind due to a cool June and July and scant rainfall.
Marshman, who farms with his wife, Mary, and their daughter and son-in-law, Kim and Ben Salt, anticipates about average yields at his place this year, though others in the area may fare slightly better if they caught a shower or two in late July.
He expects to have the combine out around Sept. 10 to pick up his canola, the first crop he'll take off his land 120 kilometres northeast of Calgary.
"There's really been not a lot of excitement," he said.
Other farmers aren't so fortunate.
It's been a bone-dry spring and summer throughout much of the Peace Country, in northwestern Alberta. Agricultural disasters have been declared in the County of Grande Prairie, Clear Hills County and Spirit River.
In southern Alberta, hail has been the issue — so much so that Agriculture Financial Services Corp. (AFSC) anticipates 2008 to be its worst hail year ever for payouts, said James Wright, the agency's program manager for insurance operations. AFSC's worst hail year to date was 2007, when it paid out more than $175 million.
Current estimates have hail damage in 2008 approaching this value again "and we still have another month before hail season is virtually completed," he said.
In mid-July, a series of hailstorms came within a week, and pummeled an area of the province from near Lethbridge to Medicine Hat.
The storms did a pile of damage, taking a number of corn fields and other specialty crops out of production.
A tornado also hit the Bow Island-Burdette area. Wright said the tornado did substantial damage to crops and equipment.
"Taber corn, there's going to be a lot less of it available, so probably the price is going to be higher because of the hail damage there," Wright said.
It's estimated the July hail storms wiped out about 50 per cent of fresh market Taber corn crop, said David Jensen, president of the Alberta Corn Growers Association.
The crop that wasn't hailed out is good, but running a good two weeks late, he said.
Merv Cradduck, who farms 15 kilometres southeast of Taber, said there's no doubt there's going to be a shortage of corn.
The area has been hit really hard this growing season, he said, and the hail has taken its toll on a lot of the grain, and specialty and vegetable crops.
Wind is more the issue at Cradduck's place, however, where he crops 600 acres of hard wheat, durum and canola on dry land and irrigation.
His crops are a week to two weeks behind — pretty much the norm across the province — as cooler than normal summer weather delayed crop maturation.
"The bonus on the other side is that the crop isn't suffering from lack of moisture as much, so it's doing quite well under those conditions," Cradduck said.
Expectations in Central Alberta are for a more average crop, he said, as things have been a little drier and hail hasn't been as big a problem across much of the region.
Northeastern Alberta is dry, with yields average to below average, though moisture in the past week to 10 days has helped with yields.
While the moisture will help the crop mature here, it won't help with quality in areas where moisture has been a concern, Wright said.
Rod Scarlett, executive director of Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, said farmers will still be able to take advantage of relatively strong commodity prices.
"Although things were late, it was good growing weather, so a little bit will depend on quality, but I think quantity will be above average," he said.
According to Alberta Agriculture's latest 2008 projected crop production, total spring wheat production is projected at 6.09 million tonnes, up 16 per cent from last year, and six per cent above the 10-year average.
Durum wheat production could hit 971,000 tonnes, a 45-per-cent increase from 2007, while oat production could fall 12 per cent to 550,000 tonnes.
Total production of barley is projected at 4.47 million tonnes, off 13 per cent from 2007 and 11-per-cent below the 10-year-average.
Canola production could increase to 3.37 million tonnes, a 12-per-cent gain from 2007 and 31-per-cent higher than the 10 year average.
In the first quarter of 2008, Alberta's total farm cash receipts hit a record $2.6 billion, a 10.6-per-cent gain from 2007.
The increase stemmed from higher crop market receipts, which jumped 48 per cent from 2007 to a record $1.2 billion, Alberta Agriculture said.