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Dry and mild Saskatchewan winter could spell disaster for crop and cattle producers

Click to play video: 'Dry and mild Saskatchewan winter could spell disaster for crop and cattle producers'
Dry and mild Saskatchewan winter could spell disaster for crop and cattle producers
Saskatchewan is seeing a milder winter with little snow and that's raising some concerns for farmers – Jan 31, 2024

Saskatchewan is seeing a milder winter with little snow and that’s raising some concerns for farmers.

Phillip Harder is a hydrologist with Croptimistic Technology Inc. and said while nothing is set in stone, the signs don’t look promising.

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“The challenge with Saskatchewan and water is that we live in this really extreme climate. And so, we’re always going to be three weeks away from a drought,” Harder said.

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He said that’s not something you can plan for, but said based on the trajectory we’re likely going to see another drought in Saskatchewan this year.

Harder prefaced that things can always change and there is always an asterisk to whatever they say, but said things aren’t looking good.

He said we aren’t seeing snow pack in the province, and what little snow there is is currently melting.

“From a hydrology perspective and what really does matter a lot, and is already locked in is what is in the soil right now.”

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Saskatchewan, he said, has seen in the past three years lots of snow, but not much moisture during the summer. He said that is not the case this year.

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“We’ve been able to have decent production because we’ve had lots of snow melt infiltration.”

He said that infiltration potential this year has been reduced.

Harder explained that even if we still get a dump of snow, the infiltration potential of the soil isn’t there right now, and what will allow us to meet the water needs for crops this year will be what we get post-snow melt.

“The best-case scenario is we get slow, gentle rains in April and May, but we can’t guarantee those things.”

He said there are projects in Saskatchewan to expand irrigation, but noted that less than two per cent of farmland in the province is irrigated.

Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said more than 80 rural municipalities declared agricultural disaster last year due to the drought, and he expects to get more calls in the spring.

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He said cattle and crop producers are worried.

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“We’ve been lobbying the federal government. We’ve been talking to the province as well about Lake Diefenbaker, the irrigation expansion that was announced a couple years ago,” Orb said.

He said he was hoping to see if the feds could help fund the expansion.

“We see that it’s crucial, especially in a year like this. We’ve got really dry conditions out there.”

The province, he said, has added about 10,000 acres to the expansion and that there will likely be more.

“But unfortunately with that goes the added demand for water.”

Orb said we need to take a closer look at water supply across the province, especially in the drier areas in the southwest.

“For some of those producers it’s actually like the sixth or seventh year in a row where they’ve had below-average rainfall.”

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