When it comes to snowfall amounts, Alberta is experiencing the seventh driest winter since 1950, says Ralph Wright, a soil moisture expert with Alberta Agriculture. However, Wright believes there’s still lots of time left to reverse the trend.
“Crops really rely on what happens during the growing season,” Wright said, adding that one good spring rainfall would make up for any shortfall from the winter snowpack.
“Across most of the agricultural areas of the province, snow packs are currently well below normal,” a Jan. 31 report on the Alberta Agriculture website reads.
It said several factors contributed to low snow moisture levels, including a late start to winter, below normal precipitation and above average temperatures.
“However, this fall, most areas did receive at least near normal rainfall, which helped to improve soil moisture reserves across much of Alberta’s agricultural areas,” the report said.
It also explained that getting less moisture during the winter season (November to March) doesn’t have as big of an impact on agriculture as it does during the growing season.
For some farmers, that is little comfort.
“Some days, I think snowpack is more a psychological thing,” Spruce Grove area farmer Ken Lewis said.
Midway through the 2015 growing season, the canola crop at Lewis Farms was described as a wreck. Late season rain did salvage the crop, but with such little snow on the ground right now, Ken feels some snow would ease concerns.
“I think we’re used to snow and we relate to it, from a dugout standpoint and maybe a more of a water table standpoint.”
Last June, the growing season was not kind to Alberta farmers. Thanks to early frost events, record warm spells and the lack of rain, soil moisture levels in central Alberta saw a 50-year low.
“It’s a tough industry, it’s a tough job,” Chris Allam said last June. His family has been farming east of Edmonton for generations. “We enjoy it, but Mother Nature controls everything that we do, so it makes things frustrating at times.”
Precipitation accumulations through the winter season typically make up less than 25 per cent of average annual totals.
February is historically the driest month of the year across most of Alberta’s agricultural regions.
(Graphic credit: Tonia Huynh, Global News)