Last week’s winter blast will mean a one-week delay for spring seeding on most Sturgeon County farms, say area farmers.
St. Albert and Sturgeon County were buried under about 10 to 15 centimetres of wet snow late April 19 following a week of sub-zero temperatures. While most of the snow was gone by April 21, the wintry blast was a sharp turn from the nearly 22 C highs the region had seen earlier in the month.
Sturgeon County farmers such as Ward Middleton said last week’s snowstorm would likely push back the start of spring seeding by at least a week for most people, as most shelterbelts still had about three feet of snow under them. (Seeding typically starts in the first week of May in Sturgeon.)
Prairie Gardens owner Tam Andersen said she had peas, carrots, and other plants in the ground at this time last year because it was so warm.
“We haven’t even been able to get onto the field [this year] because they’re still covered in snow,” she said, with some so thick with winter drifts they need about four weeks to thaw.
“It was kind of a crazy winter,” she noted, with lots of wind and plenty of snow drifts.
This has definitely been a colder April than average, with just one day after April 8 reaching this month’s typical temperature of 9 C, said Alberta Agriculture agrometeorology manager Ralph Wright.
“The nice thing is we’ve been getting decent moisture,” he said, which could resolve the water deficit caused by last summer’s brutal heat.
Sturgeon County got so much snow over the winter that it went from a roughly 1:12-year low for soil moisture at the end of October to a 1:6-year high today, putting it slightly above normal, Wright said. While this hasn’t fully made up for last year’s moisture deficit, Wright noted that just a quarter of Sturgeon County’s precipitation falls during the winter, and most of the rest of it comes during May.
“If the weather pattern holds, there should be no problem whatsoever,” Wright said.
André Montpetit of Surgeon Valley Fertilizers said last week’s snowstorm was “a godsend” for this region’s drought-ravaged fields. The hot spell this region had in early April also thawed the top few inches of soil, allowing last week’s snow to soak in instead of running off.
“This is a really excellent addition to the moisture profile of the soil,” Montpetit said, and it should help this year’s seeds germinate.
Preparing for planting
Montpetit said fields will probably be thawed enough for serious seeding to start around May 7, adding that a hot spell or a downpour could change that timeline considerably.
Andersen said she expects to have seedlings she started in the greenhouse in the ground by the first week of May. She also hopes the lettuce and spinach seeds she planted last October will sprout using the moisture from last week’s snow.
Andersen said early crops such as onions, cabbage, and kale need about a week of above-zero nights before they can go into the ground. Other crops might be delayed by last week’s cold, but those delays can help farmers dodge the emergence of typical pest species.
Middleton and Andersen said most farmers will be preparing their machinery this week so they are ready to roll when the weather turns warm.
While the war in Ukraine has driven up grain and fertilizer prices, Middleton and Montpetit said those prices won't have much effect on what Sturgeon County farmers plant this season. Most will have ordered fertilizer months ago (and prices were already up 40 to 50 per cent back then), and many have crop rotations which limit the types of grains they can responsibly grow in any year.
“This year is by far the most expensive crop ever grown in Sturgeon County,” Montpetit said, as the cost of everything from fuel to machinery is way, way up.
Residents can track the progress of spring seeding through the Alberta Crop Report starting May 6.