Better harvest expected for some southern Alberta dryland farmers

After several years of drought-like conditions, some dryland farmers in southern Alberta are feeling cautiously optimistic about the upcoming harvest.

Thanks to factors such as good soil moisture for spring seeding, timely rain and heat this summer, they are seeing better crop yield potential than they have in some time.

Dryland farmers grow crops in areas without access to irrigation and rely on nature to provide enough water.

Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, farms near Enchant, Alta.

He told CBC News that many dryland farmers are breaking an almost three-year streak that yielded little to no crops.

The streak was enough to push many farmers into a downhill slide, which makes the turnaround extremely necessary for their livelihoods.

“Talk around the community was, ‘How long can some of them survive if they don’t get a crop this year?'” Jacobson said.

“So this was a boom, and this is really going to help a lot of farmers continue their operation.”

‘Very, very good year’

A lot of rain made last year’s harvest terrible, Jacobson said.

However, it led to a reserve of moisture in the soil, which carried on into the winter and got crops off to a good start.

In conjunction with an early spring and a late summer, this “made all the difference in the world for us,” Jacobson said.

For many farmers, the yields are near record.

“Harvest has started,” Jacobson said. “[And] in my experience, this is a very, very good year.”

The overall mood among farmers and communities, Jacobson said, is more optimistic.

Gary Stanford grows spring wheat, barley and canola near Magrath, Alta., and is a regional representative on the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Factors such as good soil moisture for spring seeding, timely rain and heat this summer are leading to better crop yield potential for dryland farmers this harvest. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

“This year, our crops look very good,” Stanford said. “Last year, when we were harvesting, we were like, ‘Wow, are we going to make any money or pay the bills?'”

Like Jacobson, Stanford said the timely rains helped change the game, and the good years are necessary to allow farmers to upgrade machinery and farm infrastructure.

“As farmers, we’re very optimistic people. We want to try to make money, and actually feed the world … so to have a good year like this is a real bonus for us, too, because they just don’t happen that often,” Stanford said.

The hope now, Jacobson and Stanford said, is for the weather to hold up for harvest, and for some late fall precipitation to help build up soil moisture for a good crop next year.

“If somebody could make Mother Nature do this every year, you would have a lot of happy farmers,” Stanford said.

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