Several Alberta counties consider declaring states of agricultural disaster

WATCH ABOVE: Parkland County has issued a state of agriculture disaster because moisture levels in some areas are at the lowest recorded levels in decades. Su-Ling Goh reports. 

EDMONTON — Over the next few weeks several Alberta counties will make decisions on whether to declare a state of agricultural disaster.

Leduc County south of Edmonton and Thorhild County to the northeast, are among those considering the move. It’s due to extremely dry conditions, which farmers and producers have seen across the province this year.

“It’s a really bad situation. This is likely the driest we’ve been for 50 years and that’s confirmed through Alberta Agriculture,” said Garrett Broadbent, director of Agricultural Services with Leduc County.

Between May and July 2012, areas of Leduc County received about 290 mm of rain, according to Broadbent. This year, the area has only seen about 60 to 70 mm of rain.

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WATCH: Alberta counties consider declaring states of agricultural emergency

The drought conditions and strain the weather has placed on local farmers prompted Parkland County to declare a state of agricultural disaster Tuesday.

The decision was made unanimously in a council vote.

“These extreme drought conditions are devastating crops across Parkland County,” said Mayor Rod Shaigec.

Parkland County is a rural municipality located immediately west of Edmonton. It covers an area of 599,500 acres and has a population of 30,000.

“Council wants to make it clear to our agricultural community that we understand, and will provide all means of support possible,” said Shaigec.

“By declaring a state of agricultural disaster, we hope to call attention to this extremely important issue.”

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Parkland County officials also said grasshoppers are a huge problem, devastating crops in some areas.

“The county is facing severe drought conditions,” added Darrell Hollands, a county councillor. “The rainfall just hasn’t come.

“They’re making hay for winter provisions for the cattle. Of course, the hay production is way down,” said Hollands, who’s also an Agricultural Service Board chairman. “Also the crops are suffering. So there is a chance now for making awareness to our ministers and different levels of government to possibly assist us in speeding up processes.”

Officials said farmers are facing financial hardship, struggling with weak crops and feeding their animals. Some have even had to sell animals because they can’t feed them.

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

The county plans to notify provincial and federal government officials of the state of agricultural disaster and will be asking for disaster recovery assistance.

Alberta Agriculture said some parts of Parkland County have only received 53 mm of rain since April. The normal amount for that time period would be between 195 and 220 mm.

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The winter snow melted early which isn’t helping with the drought situation, the group said.

Between early frost events, record warm spells and the lack of rain, this growing season hasn’t been kind to farmers in central Alberta.

“The year’s definitely been a struggle,” said Kyle Lewis, a Parkland County farmer.

“Definitely counting on showers earlier on in the season that we missed that do affect the crops and the grass huge.”

“The lack of moisture is definitely playing a toll and we have to kind of rethink and re-plan how we’re going to do things to get through this drought,” said Lewis.

Alberta’s agriculture minister shares the concerns of producers and their families.

“Municipalities may choose to issue a declaration to increase awareness of the challenging conditions in their region,” said Minister Oneil Carlier.

“Rest assured, we are monitoring the weather and moisture situation very closely to understand the impact on crops and pasture.

“I am traveling to meet with my federal, provincial and territorial counterparts today and will be discussing the matter with my colleagues,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

“Our Agriculture Financial Services Corporation is also monitoring the conditions on an ongoing basis. They have a number of existing programs that are designed to assist producers in circumstances such as this. Producers have access to crop insurance, farm loans and other business risk management programs such as AgriStability and AgriInvest to help offset losses or deal with adverse conditions,” added Carlier.

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“Producers are encouraged to contact AFSC at 1-877-899-AFSC (2372) or visit for information specific to their location.”

The weeks from June 15 to July 15 are important for farmers. Historically, healthy yields occurred when large amounts of early summer rain fell.

READ MORE: Soil moisture levels in central Alberta at 50-year low 

Parts of central Alberta are experiencing soil moisture levels at their lowest in 50 years.

“The one in 50-year dry spell stems from the beginning of the growing season which is April 1. So we’ve had about 70 days of quite unusually dry spring conditions,” said Ralph Wright, a soil moisture expert with Alberta Agriculture.

The areas most hard hit extend both northeast and southeast of Edmonton.

Communities covered in red are experiencing once in 50-year low soil moisture levels. The pink areas indicate once in 12 to once in 25-year events.

This map shows the Spring Wheat Soil Moisture Reserves relative to long term normal amounts. Parts of central Alberta are currently experiencing once in fifty year lows. Photo credit: Alberta Agriculture.

With files from Margeaux Morin, Global News.

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*Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. It was updated at 5:52 p.m. Wednesday to include information about other counties considering declaring states of agriculture disaster.

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