Companies & Industries

Alberta flooding submerges some crops but it's too early to tell if harvest will be threatened

WEA Alta Flooding 201306021

Cougar Creek run through the Trans Canada Highway during heavy floods in Canmore, Alta. Friday, June 21, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Massive floods across southern Alberta aren’t just wreaking havoc for evacuees in urban centres. In some rural areas, farmers have been waking up to flooded fields – and a possible dent in this year’s profits.

“Looks as though you could ride a jet-ski through where you probably shouldn’t,” Matt Sawyer said of one of his barley fields near Acme, Alta., located northeast of Calgary. Sawyer, a farmer and regional director of the Alberta Barley Commission, lost about a quarter of his fields to flooding about two weeks ago.

 “I’ve never seen the rain come down like that… it was like someone dumped a bucket of water on you,” he said.

The rain hasn’t stopped, but the losses aren’t as bad as those incurred by flooding in 2007, when Sawyer lost nearly half of the potential yield of his 4200 acres. If warmer weather follows the floods, there might still be a respectable harvest this year, he added.

Still, the storm clouds will likely have some financial impact.

“A guy’s going to have tighten up his belt and pull his socks up if this type of weather picks up,” Sawyer said, adding that less of a profit for farmers can strain the local economy. Lower profits mean fewer purchases made at dependent businesses, including equipment retailers and markets.

Fortunately for Alberta’s agriculture industry, the damage has been largely confined to one region. In fact, flooding in the south has created excellent growing conditions farther north.

At Kent Erickson’s farm near Irma, Alta., (two hours southeast of Edmonton), about an inch of rain has been steadily falling every day in recent weeks, which has been helpful to his wheat crops.

“The plants are growing really well, and I don’t think we could ask for too much more,” said Erickson, who is also chairman of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

“Right now things look really good in central to northern Alberta.”

So far, this year has been a nice follow-up to 2012, which had provided prairie farmers with their highest total crop tonnage in three years. The price of canola alone rose about 50 per cent from the year before.

“Based on the potential for yield, and the potential for the price right now, I think it will be a good year for producers,” said Erickson.

He also isn’t too concerned about the effect that southern floods will have on commodity prices as a whole, adding that it takes a larger region affected by environmental stress to affect global prices.

Sawyer is confident that his farm will move on successfully from the effects of the flooding, especially since the elevated areas of his property haven’t been affected, but the weather has still been a bit of a shock to what was otherwise shaping up to be a good season.

“It’s a little depressing,” he said, but added that this year’s harvest isn’t a write-off yet.

 “You just have to hope for some sun.”

With files from Mary MacArthur.