When Derwin Massey looked outside at the unseasonably early snow storm last week he couldn’t help but feel his spirits sink.
“I thought, ‘this is about a month too soon. Six weeks too soon,’” Massey, a Stettler-area farmer and seed grower, told the Independent. “I haven’t seen it where we get snow this early in my time in Alberta. Snow this early and a week of cold weather is strange.”
Massey, like other farmers in Alberta, is waiting to see the damage done to his crops, both in yield and in quantity, from last week’s days-long rain/snow storm.
Massey, the owner-operator of Eco Ridge Seeds north of Stettler, had just started harvesting his crop and was about 20 per cent through when the storm hit.
He grows a “cereal collection” – “a few varieties of barley, several varieties of wheat, (and) canola, peas and oats.”
Though he’s been farming in the Stettler area for 25 years, for the past 12 years the seed farm has been his focus.
“(Harvest) was coming along nicely,” he said. “We were just getting started and had about 20 per cent of harvest in the bin. But the last three weeks – the last two weeks in particular with the heavy rain and snow – it came to a grinding halt pretty fast.”
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 of Stettler, 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.”
Byer said that county farmers had some “awesome” malt barley crops coming up, but said that crop in specific will probably face some of the largest losses and downgrades, since it sprouts easily.
For the most part, it’s the standing crop that is affected the most by storms at this stage of the harvest.
“Once crop at this stage are lodged, they’re probably lodged permanently,” Byer said. “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.
“We felt the harvest was going to be average, maybe slightly above average,” Massey said of his crop on his property, Eco Ridge. “We’re just getting going now (on harvest again). I don’t really know the downgrading of the wheat. Wheat and malt barley will be the grains of concern. They’ll be downgraded one, maybe two grades.”
That can cost a farmer anywhere from 30 cents to 80 cents a bushel, Massey estimated, depending on whether it was one or two grades a decrease.
“It can be substantial,” he warned. “It’s not pretty.”
Massey said one of the crops that may pull through with the least amount of damage is canola, at least if it was already swathed, noting that sometimes a bit of rain and cold helps the cut crop along.
One thing is certain, though, until the crop is in and graded, the losses caused by the snowstorm will only be estimates.