Drought stress setting in on southern Alberta crops

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Drought stress setting in on southern Alberta crops
WATCH: Above average temperatures and less precipitation than normal has some southern Alberta crops in rough shape. As Quinn Campbell reports, crop experts are predicting drought like conditions and lower yields – Jul 5, 2017

Ryan Mercer has been keeping one eye on his crops and the other on the sky.

“We now seem to be running up against a dry spell here and we are really hoping for an inch or two of rain,” he said.

According to Ross McKenzie, a retired agronomy research scientist from Lethbridge, some crops in southern Alberta are already showing signs of drought stress, with 58 of the last 67 days having above average temperatures.

“The bad news is, if we look at our precipitation, it’s a bit lower than normal,” McKenzie said. “For example, most areas of southern Alberta have had 100 to 120 mm of precipitation since May 1, but if we look at wheat, if it was seeded on May 1, it would have now used about 260 mm of water.”

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READ MORE: ‘It’s been a real trying time’: Alberta farmers behind on seeding after wet spring

That means crops are left to depend on depleted sub soil moisture.

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“For most farmers that are dry land farmers, most of that moisture — if not all of it — has been used up so the crops now are really living on borrowed time and are really starting to suffer,” he added.

Mercer said the lack of rain and the excessive heat impacts the overall yield.

“If we don’t get any rain now from here on in, the kernels will be shrivelled.”

READ MORE: Dry conditions fuel Alberta farmers’ fears in addition to wildfires 

It’s not just dry land farmers at risk. Some producers with irrigation are only seeing about 80 per cent of the irrigation water making it to the crops; the rest is evaporating.

“Even for irrigation farmers, they have to be absolutely vigilant checking their soil moisture in their fields at least twice a week and keep those pivots running.

“A good rain would certainly help both irrigation and dry land farmers but that’s unfortunately not in the forecast,” McKenzie said.

Another big concern with the extreme heat is the possibility of hail-producing thunderstorms.

Mercer said while the sun shines, he plans to make the best of a hot situation.

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“This hot weather has got to be good for something, and it’s great for haying.”

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