Sturgeon County farmers were all smiles this week as they prepared for an early start to spring seeding.
While planting season typically starts around May 1 in Sturgeon County, this year’s dry winter and warm spring have let many farmers get started on their crops weeks in advance.
Last year was terrible for farmers in Sturgeon County, said André Montpetit, who speaks with many county farmers as manager of Sturgeon Valley Fertilizers –many fields were still covered in snow by late April, and the ground was so soaked that farm equipment kept getting stuck in the mud. This year, most of the county was snow-free by April 8.
“I got these dreams in my head right now that I’m going to be able to pull into a field early and not have any water to go around,” Montpetit said.
“What a treat!”
The dry, warm conditions have also helped Paul Greidanus of Greidanus Apiaries get sugar and pollen supplements to his bees two weeks ahead of schedule.
“Our bees came out of winter pretty good,” he said, with about 16 per cent losses, and unlike last year his temporary foreign workers weren’t held up by COVID-related flight delays.
Potato farmer Wayne Groot predicted that most county farmers would be ready to start planting wheat and canola by the end of the month, with some early crops such as peas going in the ground as early as this week.
“I think most farmers are pretty are pretty optimistic about the start.”
Spring outlook: good
Sturgeon County had an exceptionally dry winter, with most of the county at a one in 12-to-25-year low for precipitation from October to March, reported Ralph Wright of the Alberta Climate Information Service. What little snow we did get melted in December, which meant there wasn’t much water to run off from and drown fields come spring.
While soil moisture reserves were near normal or moderately high for most of the county – theoretically a good sign, as that meant lots of water for germinating crops – Wright said it was too early to say what this would mean for the season.
“The real question is are we going to get near-normal spring moisture? That would be ideal.”
Environment Canada’s spring forecast predicted below normal temperatures and average precipitation for Sturgeon County from April to June as of April 9.
Groot said potato growers feared they would have to landfill most of their crop last year when restaurants closed, but ended up with more sales than they expected due to high demand for take-out fries and baked potatoes. He predicted most growers would plant slightly fewer potatoes this year than last as one of Alberta’s main potato processors had yet to sign most of its purchasing contracts.
Greidanus said honey prices were at an all-time high in Alberta as there was a bit of a shortage of it. Farmers still faced elevated prices for replacement bees, though, as the pandemic continued to interfere with cheap imports from New Zealand and Australia.
Crop prices were also excellent, which has led to a lot of optimism in the farm community, Montpetit said. Still, pandemic-related shutdowns in manufacturing plants had led to shortages of agricultural chemicals and parts, which could give some farmers a bit of a “COVID hangover” due to delays.
Provided there isn’t a huge dump of snow in the next week, Montpetit said county residents should expect to see farmers doing some early tilling and fertilizer application in around April 19, with serious planting starting around April 26 – about two weeks earlier than last year.