January 25, 2018 6:23 pm
Updated: January 26, 2018 7:21 am

Winter drought may spell disaster for Saskatchewan farmers

WATCH ABOVE: Depleted sub-soil moisture reserves, near record lows of precipitation in 2017, and a lack of snow this winter mean farmers crop yields will likely be average at best in 2018.

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2017 was the fifth driest year on record in Saskatoon.

It was the second driest in in Regina.

In Moose Jaw, it was the worst it’s ever been.

“With the water we had in the soil, with the reserves we had in the soil from the previous five years, we had enough to grow a ‘decent crop’ in 2017,” Ken McDougall, co-owner of McDougall Acres Ltd., said.

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But by relying on sub-soil moisture, farmers across the province find themselves with little to no stored moisture to draw from for the coming season, and the lack of snow this winter hasn’t helped.

READ MORE: 2017 second driest year on record in Regina

“Those crops used all that sub-soil moisture last year, with no recharge,” McDougall explained. “We’re going into spring, unless we get another big weather event, with no sub-soil moisture, or basically none. “

Without that moisture, crop yields will suffer. McDougall says they typically plan for five to 10 inches of rain during the growing season, but even that won’t be enough.

“A normal moisture event [during this growing season] will produce a normal, probably sub-average crop just because of the sub-soil conditions.”

To make matters worse, there is no guarantee that the province will see normal levels of precipitation return.

“When we isolate the top ten driest years here in Regina, and then take a look at the years surrounding that driest year, typically we see that moisture deficit carrying on into the next year,” Global News meteorologist Tiffany Lizée explained.

Despite a wetter fall, Saskatoon has received just nine per cent of their regular precipitation in January; in Regina, that number is 12 per cent.

If it continues, farmers may turn to crops that don’t require as much moisture. In the south of the province, many farmers may have to cut back on canola, and rely on pulse crops, like lentils.

READ MORE: Western Canadian pea farmers worried about new duty imposed by India

Despite this, the Ministry of Agriculture maintains a positive outlook.

“I think we are quite well prepared for the spring, should we not get as much moisture if we’d like, given that we practice zero till,” Ministry of Agriculture soil specialist Ken Panchuk said.

Zero-till is a practice that maximizes the use of sub-soil moisture, but even those farmers who used the practice were concerned.

“As farmers, we are worried. We are definitely worried,” McDougall admitted.

Farmers won’t know for sure whether or not they’ll have enough precipitation and sub-soil moisture to plan for a normal year, or whether they will have to make changes, until the start of April.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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