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Alberta community declares agricultural disaster amid unsuccessful harvest

Farming equipment sits in an Alberta farmer's snowy field. .
Farming equipment sits in an Alberta farmer's snowy field. . Global News

Troubles with harvesting crops have plagued farmers across the Prairies this year and now, one Alberta community is escalating the issue to an emergency.

The County of St. Paul has declared a state of agricultural disaster, saying that as of Nov. 26, 35 per cent of crops were still in the ground.

READ MORE: ‘Harvest from hell’: Alberta farmers demanding action from government

“These unharvested acres are consistent throughout the County of St. Paul,” the county said in a news release.

“With recent snowfall, it is unlikely that any more will be harvested before spring.”

Snow covers crops in an Alberta farmer’s field.
Snow covers crops in an Alberta farmer’s field. Global News

According to Cliff Martin, a county councillor and chair of the Agricultural Service Board, farmers have faced constant snow or rain since they started their harvest.

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“This is the worst we’ve seen for a long time,” Martin said. “There’s been some years that’s been bad, but they’ve managed to get most of it. But this year, with the snow and rain, it hasn’t worked out at all.”

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Along with the unharvested crop, much of what farmers have been able to get off the fields had high moisture content, meaning lots of work was put in to dry the materials out.

“[It’s] taxing and it’s a large economic impact because you’re having to move it around, and [there is] the cost of electricity and propane to do it,” Martin said.
Harvest slow, quality low and mental health a concern for farmers across Alberta
Harvest slow, quality low and mental health a concern for farmers across Alberta

Martin said the majority of crops in question are canola, but there’s also quite a bit of cereal crops still in the ground, with some areas of the county seeing as much as 40 per cent unharvested.

According to the county, the weather had both delayed crops in maturing and made harvesting them “difficult, if not impossible.”

‘Quite an economic impact’

The county said the troublesome harvest is impacting more than just the farmers.

“There’s going to be quite an economic impact, especially on local businesses,” Martin said. “Without the income coming in. it’s pretty hard to spend.”

He said it’s hoped that declaring the state of disaster will bring awareness not only to the public, but also to government officials, about the severity of the crop situation in the small community.

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Martin added there’s been a lot of pressure on the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) in recent years to update programming that provides insurance to farmers.

“The programs are not doing their job really well,” he said. “There’s a lot of time delay in getting insurance payouts. A lot of the crop that’s unharvested, you won’t be getting paid out until you harvest in the spring.”

Snow covers unharvested crops in an Alberta farmer’s field.
Snow covers unharvested crops in an Alberta farmer’s field. Global News

Martin said this harvest season has been a “tough time” for all involved.

“In the farming community, it starts out with a lot of frustration,” he said. “There’s days I’m sure that a lot of it feels very hopeless, what they’re doing.”

St. Paul isn’t the first community to raise alarm bells about the state of harvest this year.

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Earlier in November, the sugar company Rogers said it was forced to cancel the 2019 sugar beet harvest because of the severe fall weather.

Rain forces Lac Ste. Anne County to declare agricultural disaster
Rain forces Lac Ste. Anne County to declare agricultural disaster

Leduc County declared a state of agricultural disaster back in September due to the wet growing season. In August, Lac Ste. Anne County did the same.

Earlier this month, the AFSC held a series of townhalls in a number of communities across Alberta to hear concerns from farmers about the state of their crops.

The County of St. Paul declared a state of agricultural disaster in 2017 following a similarly difficult 2016 harvest season where about 25 per cent of farmers’ fields were unharvested or were bad quality.

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The county is reminding people to be mindful when hunting and doing winter activities as crops still in the ground can be impacted by vehicle and snowmobile traffic.