Current dry conditions doesn’t necessarily spell dry year to come: expert

After a long and mostly dry growing season in 2015, both farmers and ranchers alike are hoping that the season this summer will be damper.

After a long and mostly dry growing season in 2015, both farmers and ranchers alike are hoping that the season this summer will be damper — but experts say that it’s too soon to make any predictions about 2016.

While much of the summer was dry, so much so that parts of the province were declared Agricultural Disaster Zones, autumn rains and early snowfall injected some moisture into the soil. While the winter thus far has otherwise been relatively dry, there’s several more months of winter weather to consider before making any sort of prediction for 2016’s growing season.

The weather effect known as El Niño looks to also promise a milder winter than is normal for Alberta, which could impact the amount of moisture found in the county’s soil come spring planting.

It’s not possible to give a blanket statement about soil quality given the size of the Stettler county, Agricultural Services Director Quinton Beaumonst said. Though the county was part of an agricultural drought zone during the 2015 summer, end-of-season rains meant the county went into winter without that designation.

By the time lasting snow ended the growing and harvesting season, soil conditions were “dry but not too bad,” Beaumont said.

That assessment lined up with the observations made by pulse crop specialist Neil Whatley, who works with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“The soil profile is definitely not full of water due to a dry summer,” he said. “Even though we had some rain in the fall, it was a fairly open autumn.”

Despite a few heavy snowfalls, overall the winter precipitation has been a bit low, Whatley noted, but even so the “crystal ball” isn’t showing any predictions this early into the winter.

“We often get good moisture in March and April in the form of slushy snow,” he said. “Even if it’s dry now, so long as we get that we’ll have good moisture for spring crops.”

If the area doesn’t get that burst of spring slushy snow, Whatley warned that farmers could be in for a drier spring, but also said farmers have become “quite good with moisture conservation” and would see less impact if cautious than ranchers, who rely on forage and hay crops.