Wednesday, 10 July 2013 13:42

Alberta’s cash crops take pounding after major hail storms

Written by  Garrett Simmons Southern Alberta Newspapers
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Some of southern Alberta’s key cash crops took a major pounding with weekend hail storms.

Potatoes and sugar beets were hit hard in the Taber area July 5-6, while the Bow Island area bore the brunt of more damage late Saturday.
According to Terrance Hochstein, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta, many potato crops in the south were impacted.
“The worst hit is east of Taber on the Red Trail and north of the beet plant,” he said, as fresh chippers in the Coaldale area and seed acres near the Blood Reserve were also hit, as widespread destruction has been reported. “I’m going to say about 3,500 to 4,000 acres were hit.”
Those fields were damaged to varying degrees, he added, as time is still on the side of growers whose crops will be able to recover, at least to some extent.
“Your yields will be down, and your size and your specific gravity will be affected,” said Hochstein, who added before the storms, the potatoes were in excellent shape. “There was full row closure and we were starting to see some dime-size tubbers developing. This is going to set it back, but I don’t know how far.”
Rod Boras, president of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers board, has surveyed some of the damage, and said some fields suffered huge losses.
“It was fairly severe out in the Taber area. The crops that did get hit, it looked like it was fairly extensive.”
He also mentioned damage occurred in the Bow Island area later Saturday night. That will put a dent in yield figures, once the 2013 harvest begins. It’s disappointing to growers who were experiencing nearly-optimal conditions up to this point, added Boras.
“They’re off to a real good start, so it’s sad to see it when you see the potential that’s there.
Some damaged beet crops will also come back, according to Boras, who added the harvest schedule will certainly need some adjustment.
“We will be set back a few weeks for sure.”
Owen Cleland, market centre manager for Vitera, said the news isn’t any better for beans.
“It looks like the hail went from one end west to east throughout all of our bean crops,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot worse hail. It just defoliated some of the crop and it didn’t break a lot of stems.
He too added there is still time left in the growing season to salvage a crop.
“They will regrow but the yields won’t be as high and it will set the crops back a week or two weeks. I would say it’s going to cut yield by 30 to 40 per cent at least.”
Autumn Holmes-Saltzman, the southern Alberta agronomy specialist for the Canola Council of Canada, said there were 6,000 acres of canola hit with hail in the Taber/Grassy Lake area on the weekend. The most recent hail damage hit crops south of Lethbridge.
“From what I’ve seen, we have anything from light damage to 80 to 100 per cent damage,” she said, adding even severely-damaged crops have potential to recover, with reduced yields.
Damaged canola crops which were flowering will simply grow new flowers, according to Holmes-Saltzman, but it will push back harvest, and could expose canola to the hazard of early frost.
Heading into the weekend, she added canola crops were in excellent shape.
“For the ones that didn’t get hit, there’s a lot of optimism.”

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