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Farmers outrace snow

Most finished harvest before freeze hit

Most Sturgeon County farmers appear to have outraced winter as the region heads into the home stretch of the harvest season.

Alberta Agriculture reports that about 67 per cent of all crops in the Edmonton, Barrhead, Leduc, Drayton Valley, and Athabasca region was in the bin as of Oct. 22 (the date of the most recent crop report), compared to the roughly 79 per cent that’s usually collected at this time of year. That’s considerably better than the 31 per cent the region had gathered at that time last year (which saw massive delays due to heavy September snows.)

This summer’s interminable rains pushed back the start of harvesting by two to three weeks for much of this region, and farmers have been racing the clock to catch up ever since.

Late October is something of a deadline for harvesting, as this is when the first big crop-flattening snows typically arrive. A light dusting of the stuff had touched down as of Monday.

Still, Ryan Graham of Westmor Grain Terminal says most Morinville-area farmers he’s encountered say they’re done as of this week, with some having finished a few weeks ago.

“We haven’t had an easy harvest, and this is the fourth year (of that) running.”

Wayne Groot, who farms in the industrial heartland region, said he had wrapped up operations as of last Thursday but that there were a few farms in his area that still had crops out.

“We took very little grain off dry,” he said, and they’re now looking to borrow a neighbour’s grain dryer so they can prepare the grain for shipping.

It was a trying harvest for everyone, he said, as they had to keep starting and stopping due to all the rain.

Bon Accord-area farmer Murray Mulligan wrapped up his crop collection a week ago and estimates that maybe 10 per cent of the fields in his region had yet to be cleared. Above-zero weather is predicted later this week, which might be enough to melt this snow and help the rest of the county bring in what’s left. If it doesn’t, farmers will actually want to see -10 to -15 C temperatures when they harvest so the snow doesn’t melt and re-freeze in the combine. If we get a lot more snow, the harvest will grind to a halt until spring.

Mulligan said this year’s crops were generally below average in quality, especially peas, which were too wet. They’ve also had to dry pretty much all their crop, instead of the 20 to 25 per cent they usually do.

Drying can cut 19 to 46 cents off a $6.45 bushel of No. 2 hard red wheat, so it eats into your margins, Graham said. But given that it’s too cold for crops to dry in the fields at this point, farmers pretty much have to harvest wet at this point.

“It’s not going to be the prettiest of wheat.”

Dryland yield estimates for major crops in the Edmonton region were at about 88 per cent of the five-year average due to excessive moisture, with quality rating estimates described as “mediocre,” Alberta Agriculture reports.

Mulligan said farmers who had finished harvesting would now be applying fall fertilizers, shipping grain, putting away equipment, and getting ready for farm shows and agricultural conferences in the next few months.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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