Rain brings hope to southern Alberta producers

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‘It’s great to know that it actually can rain in our area, it’s a relief’

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For Sean Stanford, there was no better way he could have woken up than to the sound of a torrential downfall of rain on his farmhouse near Magrath.

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It was early Monday morning but the sound of the first real rain of the summer was music to his ears.

“I just woke up in the morning or in the middle of the night and I could hear raindrops pounding on my roof and it was just instant relief almost,” said the Alberta Barley Commission board member.

Since the rain started falling his 650-acre farm has received about 60 millimetres of precipitation in the last 72 hours — the previous two months had totalled about 25 mm.

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Coming off of a winter where they got very little snowfall, the timing of this deluge could not have been better. He said his cereal crops were thin and spindly instead of big and thick while his canola that was on dryland was patchy in emergence. This was evident in fields where irrigation is on a circular track — the canola in its path is looking pretty good, but the dryland surrounding it in the same field is struggling.

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“We haven’t had a ton of moisture to even get good germination on some of the seeds yet,” he said. “So it was kind of desperate times and well-timed to get this rain, for sure.”

While the early season dry weather will impact their yield this year, he said growers are hoping to salvage at least an average crop, which combined with high commodity prices would bring much-needed relief to beleaguered producers still facing high costs of fuel and other inputs.

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Since Sunday, when the rain began falling, Calgary has received about 79 mm of rain while closer to the foothills there has been even more precipitation, ranging between 100 and 150 mm.

The challenge has been that the further east in the province you go, the less rain has fallen. Lethbridge has received about 62 mm but it falls off at Medicine Hat to 28 mm.

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Danielle Fingland, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said there is the potential for another 10 mm to fall in the region as the system moves out into Saskatchewan. There is also a chance for more next week, though not a guarantee.

“There are some models, hinting that there will be another event over southern Alberta and in that area, potentially early next week,” she said. “If they are dry, there’s a chance that they will get some of the much-needed rain next week.”

Fingland also said that there has not been any significant flooding reported in the rural areas to this point.

Just seeing rain has given Jason Hale hope.

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“It’s great to know that it actually can rain in our area, it’s a relief,” said the Alberta Beef Producer’s board member. “The mood of the ranchers and farmers in my area is greatly improved to see some moisture.”

His family runs about 200 cows and 100 yearlings on their farm near Bassano, a half-hour west of Brooks. They have just recently been able to put their herd back on pasture and take them off of feed. They were on feed for more than a month longer than they normally are after having to put their cattle on what would have been a carryover pasture during the fall due to the drought.

Still, they need a lot more of these types of weather events to really pull themselves out of last year’s crisis.

“We were in such a bad drought last year that our moisture levels in the ground were so depleted, that it was amazing to see some of the puddles that were forming, and it sure didn’t take long for them to sink in the ground,” said Hale.

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The low water table is also impacting available water for dugouts that are normally filled by winter runoff, leaving ranchers facing potential shortages this summer if the rain stops and the temperatures shoot up.

This is further impacted by the global grain shortage which continues to push the cost of feed higher with profit margins that are already tight.

“Financially a lot of tough decisions are still going to have to be made as the summer continues,” said Hale. “I know before we got the rain, there was producers that were selling pairs, yearlings that usually go to grass for the summer months were going to feed lots. And that cost of feeding them in a feedlot is quite a bit higher than it has been in previous years.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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