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No Rain, No Grain: Alberta Farmers Struggle with Summer Drought

Dry conditions force farmers to adapt

The dry season is causing difficulties for farmers in various parts of Alberta, and they are hoping for some summer showers to relieve the heat.

Steve Larocque, an independent crop advisor, expressed concern about the crops and livestock in the region. He points out that crops are already showing signs of stress due to the lack of moisture.

“We’re really in a difficult position here…We’re right on the edge where crops were looking OK last week, but they’re already starting to show a lot of signs of stress just in the last four days,” Larocque said during a Homestretch interview. 

two side by side images of a farmer standing in a lush green barley field and the same field but barren and brown a year later
Richard Owen, a Southern Alberta farmer standing in his barley field after his crop was devastated by heat waves | Kim Owen | CBC News

Without enough rain, crops may not reach maturity. Livestock farmers are also facing challenges because there is a shortage of grass and potential feed scarcity.

A moisture situation report from the Alberta government stated that areas without rainfall might be experiencing early signs of moisture stress.

The report emphasized that soil moisture reserves are extremely low in many places across Alberta, and timely rains are crucial. Larocque agreed with this assessment and is working with his clients to find solutions.

He mentioned that the current situation is unique and something he hasn’t witnessed frequently in the past.

According to Larocque, dry crops exhibit certain signs that farmers must watch out for. These signs include changes in colour, such as yellowish leaves and leaf drops.

Ralph Wright, a manager with Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation, explained that the situation is unpredictable at the moment. Farmers are in a wait-and-see situation, as it’s still early in the season, and fall is far away.

While Wright hopes for rain in the coming months, he acknowledges farmers’ valid concerns about how long the crops can endure the lack of rain and warmer temperatures.

“How long the crops can withstand, you know, no rain and warmer temperatures, I don’t know…It’s going to be very dependent on the crop and when it was seeded and what condition it’s in now,” Wright told CBC News

However, there is still hope. Larocque suggested various strategies farmers can try, including conservation techniques, preserving soil residue, and experimenting with crop rotations.

These approaches can help retain moisture when it does rain. Larocque explains that maintaining residue cover acts like a blanket, holding and preserving moisture when rainfall occurs.

Despite the challenges, Larocque expressed gratitude for advancements in farming practices. He believes that the situation would be even more dire if this had happened in the past.

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