With crops in the ground in good order, farmers now turn their eyes skyward in the hope for rain and pasture re-growth

By Tim Kalinowski


As June rolled around most farmers in southern Alberta had either already completed their seeding or were on the cusp of doing so.

Mark Cutts, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, says with crops mostly sewn, and planted at a pace well above the five-year average, it is all in Mother Nature’s hands now.

“Coming into spring, soil moisture levels were not that high,” states Cutts. “Moisture is there to get things started, but in the growing season precipitation is critical to helping those crops along. While that moisture in May was certainly welcome in the areas that received it, not everybody got it. That moisture is the key ingredient at this point in time.”

Cutts says in northern Alberta and in areas east of Calgary the moisture situation is very worrying for local farmers.

“East of Calgary and the Special Areas have definitely been dry this spring; so some more moisture would be very nice in that area,” he says.

While the Lethbridge and Medicine Hat regions received decent to adequate amounts of moisture in May to start crops off on the right foot, pastures still remain a concern in those areas, Cutts confirms.

“I think overall there is some level of concern about the moisture conditions in the pastures,” he says. “This is the time of year when animals do go out on pasture, and if you are in an area where soil moisture is a concern then certainly the ability of those pastures to handle the grazing, and have some re-growth after they have been grazed, is the priority.”

As already stated, years of drought have taken their toll on soil moisture levels in southern Alberta, leading to sub-par producing pastures to start this year’s growing season.

“Any moisture that was received is certainly welcome,” Cutts admits, “but as we move through this time of year when our pastures, crops and hayfields are putting on growth it’s an important time to receive moisture.”

According to the AAF crop report released at the end of May, “pasture and tame hay fields were still in need of moisture, with growth somewhat delayed. Compared to the five-year averages, pasture and tame hay conditions have deteriorated by 23 and 14 per cent, respectively.”

Some livestock producers had also extended their winter-feeding or had to provide supplementary feed to their cattle in drier areas of province, the report further stated. Cutts says it is too early to predict what hay prices may be this summer due to this situation.

“Hay pricing doesn’t really get established until we take off the hay June into July,” he says. “Once people are taking off first cuts and getting an evaluation of how much is there that will have an influence on what we see for prices. The showers that really spur on that growth are important now,” Cutts adds. “If it is warm and dry as it has been the past two summers, we expect that to have an impact on any type of plant production.

“So if you are in cattle, and need feed, it’s really fingers-crossed at this time.”

Graph courtesy AAF
While a band of moisture did create adequate moisture levels for spring seeding, more precipitation will be required in coming month to ensure good crop growth and a better feed situation.