The president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) says a dire situation has arisen for a number of municipalities, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the province.
“There’s just not enough time, if we had the required moisture, and germination is too late. So it’s quite a scary situation,” said Paul McLauchlin.
Such conditions are likely to spark some bigger conversations about the future of food security in the province, McLauchlin said, especially when it comes to agricultural disasters.
This year, several municipalities have declared agricultural disasters, including:
The latest moves follow devastating drought conditions two years ago when several provincial municipalities declared agricultural disasters.
“We’re definitely on a trend,” McLauchlin said. “I think we need to start looking at conversations about efficiency in our use of agricultural disasters, what kind of mitigation can we have.
“As we get to a hotter and drier future, we need to start having broader discussions about how we can mitigate this in the long term.”
Declaring the disaster in Wheatland County, located east of Calgary, officials called the problem “urgent,” writing that the drought means there is too little water for crops. For some growers, any precipitation may come too late.
The Special Areas Board, which covers more than five million acres in east-central Alberta, also declared an agricultural disasterfor Special Area No. 2, 3 and 4 on July 12, the second time in more than 20 years.
“Dry conditions are not new to special areas, but continued moisture deficiencies and high temperatures have devastated crops and pastures throughout the region,” Jordon Christianson, board president, wrote in a statement.
“Growers are struggling to find enough grass, water and feed for their livestock. Farmers are facing widespread crop failures. Significant grasshopper infestations are making a very difficult situation worse in many parts of the special areas.”
Ed Vandenberg, who grows potatoes, dried beans and corn near Enchant, Alta., says he’s lucky to have irrigation, because without it, he wouldn’t have a crop this year, but it has created challenges for his neighbors.
“It just puts a bit of a negative pessimism on the area, when the neighbors get together and talk about the crops and the state of the crops,” Vandenberg said.
“It’s daunting when you have good crops, and the potential and promise of a good crop, that brings a smile to farmers’ faces. But they are far and few in number at the moment.”
Agriculture is a key part of Alberta’s economy, contributing $8.1 billion in GDP in 2021 and employing more than 58,300 Albertans, according to invest alberta.
Farmers also face problems
Brodie Haugan, president of Alberta Beef Producers, said that while the areas of drought may be getting smaller, where it is affecting producers is severe.
Extreme drought and weather in the past have led beef producers in Canada and the United States to reduce herds in near record numbers. That’s happening again this year, Haugan said.
“Many operations that were forced to take action in recent years have not been able to get their numbers back this year,” Haugan said.
Municipal agricultural disasters do not automatically trigger funding or program responses. They are used to signal that the conditions facing farmers are becoming dire for the provincial and federal governments.
But McLauchlin, the RMA president, said they are an important exercise and are not to be taken lightly.
Moving forward, he said talks were beginning to take shape about what the future of agriculture in the province might look like.
“South Africa had a [dire] drought. And they responded by using the landscape to mitigate and create a more secure future, whether it was better water use, water recycling, check dams, and many other conversations, including around cropping options,” he said.
“So I think those discussions have happened lately. But I think … at the end of this year, we need to start having those bigger conversations with various people at the table, and figure out how we’re going to approach this going forward.” future.”
In a statement, a spokesman for Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, RJ Sigurdson, said he was working with the Agricultural Financial Services Corporation to support growers who are considering alternative uses for their crops, rather than waiting until maturity to harvest.
“We have heard the concerns of crop and livestock producers, and continue to closely monitor the situation and explore potential support options,” spokesman Callum Reid wrote in a statement.