When farmers woke up in early September and saw sleet and snow coming down, it wasn’t a pleasant moment.
Now, a month later, the county’s agriculture director, Quinton Beaumont, expects farmers are going to be taking a significant hit to the pocketbook unless they had started harvesting early.
“It’s going to be feed quality for the majority who did not harvest early,” Beaumont said. “Anyone who got their crops off early are going to be happy.”
He said the wet weather impacted hay too, not just crops like canola, wheat and barley. Farmers wanting good quality hay for their livestock will be looking for farmers who had baled up their harvests of alfalfa before the late-summer snow-day. People who baled after that are more likely to have damp bales, which decreases the quality of feed, increases the rate of rot, and improves the chances for unsavoury additions like mould.
Farmers in the county grow crops like wheat, barley and oats when it comes to the cereal crops, corn and alfalfa for grazing, and silage crops. A few farmers branch out and raise crops more rare to the climate found in central Alberta, growing blue fields of flax and fava beans.
Canola is the primary crop grown in the county, though, since it’s the “money maker,” Niki Thorsteinssen, a representative for the county, said. During the summer months, it’s not unusual in some parts of the county to see the flowers of the canola crop turning fields into a sea of gold as far as the eyes can see.
Though Stettler didn’t receive the heavy snowfall other parts of Alberta received, the amounts received were enough to lodge – bend or knock down – crops in areas of the county.
Jay Byer has seen his share of harvests during his tenure as assistant director of agriculture with the county, and even more during his career in other parts of the province. He said it’s been about 20 years since he saw snow come this early – and then, it was in a more northern part of the province.
“There wasn’t a whole lot people could do to protect their crops,” he said. “They could have tried some early swathing on their canola, which may have reduced some of the losses that they’d be experiencing, but even in the swath, when they experience extended lengths of cold wet weather there can be some degradation. Rain, cold and snow are the deadly combination.”
For the most part, it was the standing crop that was affected the most by the September helping of snow and rain.
“Once crop at this stage are lodged, they’re probably lodged permanently,” Byer said, noting that earlier in the season crops can sometimes recover from unusual weather. “There’s the yield quality and quantity decrease that will really hit pocketbooks.”
Farmers end up having to reach for their wallets in cases like this on several fronts, from renting equipment, switching from straight cutting to swathing, to renting or buying dryers to dry damp crops. Other ways farmers take a hit is in the increased man-hours for harvest and the decrease in quality and yield.
For some farmers in the county it hasn’t been an excellent summer at all. Several days of thunder storms brought hail into parts of the county, causing extensive damage during the precarious time where crops were moving into the final stages of growth before harvest.