Moisture ‘desperately’ needed across southern Alberta after dry winter

Farmers in southern Alberta are searching the sky for signs of rain following a dry winter and record-setting summer.

“Hail was always my biggest worry, but this is the second year now I’m worried about moisture,” said farmer Leroy Newman. “It’s really scary how dry it is.”

Newman is a fourth-generation farmer who has been working his family’s land near Blackie, Alta., for more than thirty years.

Read more: Farmers brace for more drought conditions as unusually warm weather continues

Newman said last year was the first time he ever filed an insurance claim for drought due to the extreme heat.

“The crops were flowering and you could smell the burning,” he said. “It was crazy how dry and how hot it was.”

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While Newman hoped for snowier conditions over the winter months, it seems his request went unfulfilled.

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The latest agriculture moisture report from the Alberta government painted a grim picture.

“Following a long dry winter, moisture is needed desperately across the south half of the province,” the March 27 report reads. “Year-to-date, a large area from Red Deer down to the U.S. border have been this dry on average only once in six to 12 years.”

Read more: Southern Alberta snowfall ‘good news’ for farmers amid dry winter

Ralph Wright, manager of agro-meteorological applications and modelling section for Alberta Agriculture & Forestry, said southern Alberta’s dry winters have been felt for some time.

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“The dry conditions in southern Alberta actually started in about 2017,” he said. “They had one year — 2020 — which was a little bit better but they’re probably five years running dry.”

“You have to go back into the ’20s and the ’30s to find drier periods than what we’re seeing now.”

However, Wright said he’s hopeful that conditions could improve over the next few months if we receive the right amount of rain at the right time.

Read more: Record-high fertilizer prices impacting Alberta farmers

“We don’t want five millimeters every week,” he said. “We want a good shot of 20 millimeters of rain at a time and we want it to get into the soil.”

“A day or two of wet weather can do a heck of a lot to reverse the dry winter they’ve had.”

Newman is also hoping that April ushers in some wetter conditions.

“You can’t be mad at the skies. Mother nature just does this.”

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