The soil moisture estimates for pasture land across Alberta, as of Aug. 31, looks rather bleak with most areas having little to no reserves left. This has certainly been a contributing factor to cattle producers having to decide on feed supplies plus herd levels. Image: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Alberta’s moisture deficit troubling for this season

Below average yield anticipated in Alberta due to low levels of precipitation.

Fields that have not seen a lot of precipitation this growing season will still produce a crop, but the troubles may get worse if the situation doesn’t improve for 2019.

“For the second straight summer, central Alberta and many other areas have had to rely on soil moisture levels,” noted Harry Brook, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) crop information specialist.

“The reserves used last year were not really filled by the snow melt and the absence of good spring rains. That’s left a lot more fields now with such a deficit.”

One look at AAF’s soil moisture maps, which show available water as of Aug. 31, demonstrates the enormity of the situation.

Only small sections of the province — most located in the far northwest and Peace regions — show either adequate or higher levels of soil moisture.

Now, while not yet to the degree that could be classified as disastrous, Brook explained the need for at least an average snow fall this winter to go along with good rainfall come spring.

“If the ground doesn’t get a chance to freeze before winter, that will provide a chance when the snow melts for the soil to absorb that moisture and not run off,” he stated.

“However, because of the degree of the moisture deficit, there is also going to be the need for some significant rains in the spring to rebuild the soil moisture to average levels.”

Below average

Combine the lower soil moisture levels with the hot summer and some paltry precipitation numbers, Brook figures the provincial harvest will wind up slightly below average overall.

“In that last week of August, the central Alberta region was right around five per cent complete,” he said.

Moisture and frost conditions may affect that.

“I would estimate that figure would be sitting around 20 per cent for the area. Provincially, given the shape some regions are in, the average would sit closer to 15 per cent.”

The light frost that mostly hit central and Peace regions, Brook noted, wasn’t expected to be ‘kill’ any crops, only cause some issues when it came to the timing of harvest for some crops.

“The frost was really localized and came really close in some areas — such as around Meeting Creek — to a killing frost,” he said, adding the Ferintosh area reached minus 2.6 degrees in the early morning of Sept. 5.

“While most old timers state most of harvest is usually done in October, I am always a little nervous when it gets pushed that far, because when it gets wet there is not enough heat during the day to dry it and push that maturity level. Then if you get a clear night, it will freeze.”

Hurting pastures

The other issue Brook sees coming from the soil moisture deficit is the affect it will continue to have on the cattle industry.

Pasture land in several regions of the province is nearing drought-like conditions and feeding the herds is becoming an increasing concern — much like the poor conditions and BSE hit taken by the industry in 2003 and 2004.

“Pastures have nothing left and with producers not having any extra feed after last winter, how many animals will they be able to keep and at what point will that herd size affect the province’s packing facilities?” he asked.

Brook added there is feed available, but the cost of transportation would not be worth the benefit producers could get.

 

A lack of precipitation over the month of August over most of Alberta, shown in this map, is likely to produce a below average yield this year and a sign that next season may be even more challenging unless levels are replenished. Image: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

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