Dry Farms make for slender harvest

By Tim Kalinowski


Harvest is well under way in most of southern Alberta, but farmers in dryland areas can likely expect fewer bushels this year. The U.S. border zone has been particularly hard hit by drought, effecting the overall quality and quantity of the crop. Ron Svanes, a farmer near Picture Butte, says the dry weather hasn’t hit all his neighbours alike.
“The showers down here have been pretty spotty this year,” says Svanes. “You go six miles north of us and they had a couple extra showers we didn’t get, and their yields are a little bit above average. I also have neighbours that are significantly worse off than us. We go further east they are hurting pretty bad. I have heard of nine bushel pea crops.”
Svanes says for his part, he has been pleasantly surprised thus far with his harvest.
“We started with combining our yellow peas and we planned to move on to our wheat and barley right after that,” he says. “Our peas were going at 25-28 bushels per acre, which was a pleasant surprise. We were anticipating about 20. The barley, I would say, looks better than last year. Last year we had later rains and ended up with a lot of second growth issues. This year it is uniform and it looks like it might go 40-50 bushels to the acre.”

“I am guessing our wheat will probably go 25 bushels to the acre,” Svanes adds. “In a normal year we have been managing 40-50 bushels to the acre. I am guessing the kernels will look somewhat shriveled. I think our bushel rates will be down.”
But canola is Svanes biggest worry, by far, this harvest season. It was just starting to fully mature in the past week.
“The canola, as you can imagine, has not done well under the heat,” states Svanes. “We have had a lot of heat blast, and we are kind of worried about how the pods are filling.
“We are wondering if the seeds themselves are so small they might look like pepper. We’ll find out, I guess, when we start combining.
“Our canola is still fairly green,” he adds. “We try to straight cut our canola so we will have to wait on that for quite a bit yet.”
Svanes says this is his farm’s second year in-a-row of bone dry weather during the summer months.
You can definitely feel the toll that prolonged dryness is having on the land, he says.
“Our subsoil moisture levels are pretty dry,” Svanes confirms. “Once we get harvest done, it would be nice to have some good fall rains so we can start next year with some good subsoil moisture in the spring. It also gives a guy a confidence factor too…
“When you have got some good subsoil moisture in the fall, you are willing to put a lot more money in for fertilizer, chemicals and inputs.
“If it is really dry, on the other hand, you get kind of pessimistic and you say, ‘Euh, maybe I will hold off a bit here.’ You hedge your bets.”
Still, overall, says Svanes, the year could have been worse.
“I kind of philosophical about it. Since 2002 we have had a string of good crops, and we have had some good prices too. So maybe it’s our turn for a correction.”