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High heat and low precipitation has Alberta farmers worried

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WATCH ABOVE: With record-breaking temperatures in the forecast and very little rain so far this year, farmers are getting worried. Jessica Robb has more on what this means for crops in southern Alberta – Jun 25, 2021

Alberta is expected to see record high temperatures over the next week.

While there are ways for people to beat the heat, farmers are getting worried for their crops.

“Our crops are still holding on, but they’ll need a rescue here pretty soon,” said Jason Saunders, a farmer in southern Alberta.

Read more: ‘Historic heat wave’ coming to B.C., Alberta: Environment Canada

As a dryland farmer near Taber, Saunders relies on the natural weather conditions for his crops of wheat, canola, flax, chickpeas and lentils.

So far, this year hasn’t been good. Some of his crops are already struggling under the heat.

“Our crops are flowering right now,” he said. “They’re at a stage where they require moisture. That’s not here. So they’ll drop their flowers and terminate.”

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Ross McKenzie, a retired agronomy research scientist, said the problems for farmers this year didn’t just start.

“We had very limited soil moisture going into the spring because of a limited snowfall,” he said. “And then we’ve had much lower than normal growing season precipitation over the last three months.”

Read more: Alberta farmers thankful for snow’s moisture as seeding season begins

The two conditions have made for what McKenzie calls “a dire situation for dryland farmers in southern Alberta.”

According to Environment Canada, June is typically the wettest month for the Lethbridge area. Normally, the area gets 76.2 millimetres of rain in June.

So far this month, it’s only been 16.5 millimetres, with half coming from the last two days.

McKenzie said crop water use for peas, canola, barley and wheat are around six to seven millimetres per day. On a hot day, that could be pushed to eight to 10 millimetres of water use. But the moisture has to be there.

“If the environmental conditions continue with the lack of rain, we could be in very serious trouble in the next seven to 14 days,” he said.

The current forecast for the Lethbridge area shows mid-30s starting on Saturday and stretching into next week. Some of those highs could be record-breaking.

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“That’s warm,” said Saunders. “And with no moisture in the forecast, things will turn quickly.”

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Both McKenzie and Saunders said in their careers, 2001 was the worst year they’ve seen for low precipitation in the growing season.

“And this is kind of shaping up to be not any better,” said McKenzie.

Saunders is thankful changing technology can help lessen the blow of a poor growing season, but his options are still limited.

“In dryland farming, you just take it as it comes,” he said. “You can’t change the weather, so we just adjust to the situations.

“It is bad, but it won’t shut us down. It’s just that we won’t have much for harvest.”

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