‘What do I do with my cattle?’: Alberta farmers struggle with near drought

Watch above: Global’s Mia Sosiak speaks with an Alberta farmer concerned about the effects of the dry growing season.

CALGARY – Farmers in southeastern Alberta say they desperately need rain and areas east and south of Calgary are experiencing the driest season in 50 years.

The conditions have also prompted the province to issue a low flow advisory for the South Saskatchewan River Basin asking users to reduce their water consumption.

One farmer east of Okotoks says he’s getting 90 per cent fewer bales of hay as a result of the dry weather.

“I’ve seen it dry here but not like this,” said Roy Newman.

This growing season, parts of the province have received the lowest rainfall they’ve seen since the 1960s. Agriculture experts say irrigation farmers should have enough water for their crops, but dryland farmers may be in trouble. About half of Alberta is suffering from a lack of moisture, after El Nino robbed southern Alberta of the heavy rains typical of June.

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“That’s already setting us up for a terrible situation,” said Global News meteorologist Jordan Witzel. “Now we’re heading into the dry period, that late July, August, all we get from Red Deer south are your afternoon and evening thunderstorms.”

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Witzel says those thunderstorms don’t create enough rain to help, but Alberta Agriculture says it’s not an actual drought yet thanks to spotty showers and good subsoil moisture.

But the province’s agriculture producers disagree.

“Alberta Agriculture is downplaying it…For a lot of [the crops], it’s just too late,” said Lynn Jacobson with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.

Newman’s barley and Canola crops are also hurting. He says in three days, his 300 cows will run out of pasture to eat.

“What do I do with my cattle? Do I sell them?” asked Newman. “Everybody else is selling them. Do I downsize?”

The dry conditions are likely to keep beef prices high at the grocery store, and Newman isn’t getting much sleep.

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“I just hope the government is watching because there’s going to be a lot of distressed farmers here.”

Droughts are among the costliest natural disasters, and western Canada has a long history of them, with more than 40 since the 1890s.The last severe drought in Alberta – from 1999 to 2004 – was the worst in at least a century, and caused net farm income to plummet to zero.

Dry periods affect not only agriculture, but also forestry, water quality, recreation and even human health.

The biggest health risk is respiratory problems due to smoke from wildfires.

With files from Global News

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