Thursday, 02 June 2016 09:16

Rain an ‘absolute godsend’ for AB producers

Written by  Dave Mabell, SOuthern Alberta Newspapers
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After a short winter and an unusually warm spring, Alberta farmlands were looking dangerously dry.

This month’s rainfall has put a smile on producers’ faces right across the province.
With more precipitation on the way, Alberta Agriculture officials say field crops should do well this year. The timing, explains agro-meteorologist Ralph Wright, couldn’t have been better.
“It’s an absolute godsend,” he says, particularly for central Alberta areas west of Highway 2.
Southern Alberta drylands south of Highway 3 have also received well-above-average moisture, he reports. At the start of the growing season, Wright says, forecasts were not so positive.
With spring arriving early and snow disappearing about three weeks ahead of usual in many parts of the province, farmers were worried about insufficient moisture, but on closer examination, Wright says, the deficits were not as as significant as first feared and crops were seeded as originally planned.
“Seeding was quite early this year.”
Warm weather spurred their growth. With pastures and hay crops greening up, farmers looked for rain.
Instead, temperatures in parts of central Alberta reached a once-in-50-years high point, Wright says. Then days later, some areas were hit by heavy frost.
May 18 became the turning point, he says.
“We couldn’t have ‘ordered it’ any better for the province’s agricultural producers,” Wright says.
Farmlands in central Alberta that required drought “disaster” assistance last year were among those that received the most rain, he notes.
For southern Alberta’s irrigation farmers, the news is equally positive. Alberta Environment and Parks spokesperson Jason Penner says the Oldman River dam has reached 92 per cent of its capacity, while the St. Mary reservoir (87 per cent) and Waterton River dam (85 per cent) are also close to full, following last weekend’s rain.
With seeding complete and more moderate temperatures this week, he adds, the demand for irrigation water is down. In the Lethbridge area, Penner notes, the Oldman River is close to its annual peak flow.
While this month’s rainy days have helped fill southern Alberta reservoirs, Wright says, they’ve also helped dryland operations. In Foremost, where 65 to 80 mm of rainfall is the norm by this time of year, there’s been 115 mm.
Areas from the Milk River Ridge through Wrentham and east to Manyberries have also enjoyed above-normal precipitation, he reports.
“Things are looking good” in Vulcan County as well, and in other areas southeast of Calgary. But Wright says there’s a strip along Highway 1, east to Medicine Hat, that still needs more moisture.
With May coming to an end and southern Alberta’s wettest month coming next, there’s always hope for improvement.
“The wettest month every year is June,” he says, peaking at mid-month. By Canada Day, in southern Alberta at least, Wright says the rainy season is over. But southern Albertans are lucky.
“In Red Deer, it doesn’t end until September.”

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