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Southern Alberta farmers look to soil moisture levels as spring seeding nears

Click to play video: 'Southern Alberta farmers look to soil moisture levels as spring seeding nears' Southern Alberta farmers look to soil moisture levels as spring seeding nears
WATCH ABOVE: This March is seeing above-normal temperatures and significantly less snowfall than normal. It has some southern Alberta farmers eager to get in the fields for seeding. Quinn Campbell explains. – Mar 16, 2021

Gary Stanford farms near Magrath, Alta. He is keeping a close eye on his fields as the warm weather has many farmers in the area eager to get in the field.

He said soil moisture levels are good in the southwestern part of the province, but frost is still in the ground.

“It’s still very wet, it sticks together very good and the ground is still very cold,” Stanford said.

He said he is still about three to four weeks away from seeding, but seeing the moisture in the soil is a promising sight.

Read more: 2020 harvest begins in southern Alberta

“We had a lot of snow in October and November — south of Lethbridge, towards the Montana border — and so we had a lot of good moisture go in the ground when the ground was warm last fall,” Stanford said.

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It’s a different story in other areas of the province.

A map on the Alberta government’s website (shown below) shows precipitation accumulations from mid-December to mid-March. Pink indicates very dry conditions.

Government of Alberta. Government of Alberta

“It depends where you are, but for southern Alberta, its nice to have soil moisture,” said Ralph Wright with the agro-meteorological applications and modelling unit at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“It’s like money in the bank, but typically you don’t have a lot of soil moisture this time of year.”

Winter precipitation only accounts for roughly 20-25 per cent of the annual moisture received in the dry areas shown on the map. With the more rainy months ahead, Wright said it means farmers are more dependent on a rainy spring.

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“April is when you start seeing the moisture coming back a little bit, and then May and June are your wettest months — with June being the wettest — and then July comes around and someone turns the taps off it seems like, and it gets hot,” he said.

Read more: Alberta farmers seeding and hoping to get last year’s crop off

Frost is another big indicator in seeding. Wright said it can cause damage to crops seeded too early.

There is a 25 per cent chance, on average, that you will see -3 C after May 10, and another 25 per cent chance, on average, that you will see -1 C after May 22.

Stanford said it is important for farmers to get their crop in early, but in southern Alberta,  patience is key.

“We want to seed as soon as we can, and I think most farmers do, but you only get one chance at it,” he said.

“We seed one time in Canada so we’ve got to be careful about our risk — Mother Nature is a big player.”

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