Agricultural disaster declared by NSC

Snow sits in a field of unharvested canola. It will have to be next spring before harvest is completed.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Northern Sunrise County has joined Birch Hills County, Saddle Hills County and the County of Grande Prairie in declaring an agricultural disaster for local farmers.

The Agricultural Service Board met on Nov. 18 and asked Northern Sunrise County council to declare a municipal agricultural disaster for oilseed and grain producers.

Francoise Allard, who farms wheat and canola in the county with his brother Pierre, says it’s been “very challenging”.

He says the biggest problem overall has been moisture. First, it was too dry, and then there was too much rain and snow.

Allard says when his wheat began to grow it only grew one head instead of several heads, which is known as “tillering out” and increases crop yields.

“Wheat is resilient. It’ll try to grow something,” says Allard.

“Get enough rain and one seed might tiller out three or four or five heads. At the time when it was dry the wheat wasn’t growing too good.”

Allard’s canola was seeded later.

“The canola wasn’t as bad,” Allard says. “It was still early enough when it did start to rain. It took advantage of the rain. But when it did start raining it didn’t quit.”

A lack of hot weather delayed harvest.

“We were harvesting at 10 to 15 below [celcius] some days, which is not normal,” Allard says.

“Then the snow started hitting. The day after Thanksgiving we woke up to two inches of snow.”

Allard says out of just under 6,000 acres, they left 1,185 acres unharvested.

“We left about 20 per cent,” he says. “We did what we could. Some battled even harder.”

Overall, the Peace Region currently has about 14 per cent of crops in swath and 21 per cent still standing, with harvest unable to progress due to both rain and snow.

According to the Nov. 12 Alberta Crop Report, “Snowpack water equivalent is variable across the Peace Region, ranging from 5-10 mm in the northern parts, 15-40 mm in the central parts and 40 to in excess of 70 mm in the southern parts.”

“Considering the amount of snow in the fields, and especially in the Peace Region, which is the most behind, it would be unlikely that producers can finish harvest before next spring.”

Allard says prices are also down to as much as $2 a bushel less depending on when a crop is sold.

“That’s literally 20 per cent less income with less bushels per acre,” he says.

Allard says international trade issues are also not helping, such as China refusing to buy canola.

After hearing other counties had declared agricultural emergencies he is pleased Northern Sunrise is taking the same step.

“I was just telling my son that two or three years ago, give and take, we thought we had a horrible year, and I hope not to see another year like that for decades. Now we’re even worse.

“It makes it a little tough,” he adds.

Northern Sunrise County Councillor Corinna Williams says the ASB wants to show they are listening to the concerns of the farmers experiencing the stress of financial losses.

“That’s why we wanted to bring forward declaration of agricultural disaster, just to make sure the farmers are aware that we know they’re in trouble, we know that they’re having difficulties, and to let the federal government know as well that we are aware of what’s going on in this area,” Williams says.

The ASB will write to the Alberta Minister of Agriculture Devin Dreeshen, and has asked the county to write to both the province and federal government.

“We’re hoping that it will increase the awareness,” says Councillor Dan Boisvert. “We may be able to get some funding on additional services into the county.”

“What it doesn’t do as per the other declarations from Birch, Saddle, and Grande Prairie, is it doesn’t bring additional funding to the actual farmers, but we’re hoping it will bring supports and identify it as an actual problem.”

Other councillors say livestock producers were also struggling due to not having the feed for their cattle, and that honey producers also took a financial hit due to the wet weather.

As a result, Northern Sunrise County declares an agricultural disaster on behalf of all local producers, not just oilseed and grain producers.

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