Drought watch kept on Alberta, early spring expected

Departure from average precipitation for the period from Nov. 1, 2015 to Feb. 15, 2016. (Map courtesy AAFC)

CNS Canada — Above-average temperatures and limited precipitation could mean parts of the Prairies will struggle with soil moisture heading into the spring, according to one specialist.

“The soil moisture that we have in the ground right now is similar to what we went into the winter with,” said Trevor Hadwen, agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Drought Watch program in Regina.

Regions in Alberta are most likely to be affected by dry soil, especially the central and northwest parts of the province, he said.

“It’s been fairly dry throughout last year, and they haven’t received the amount of precipitation that they’re used to. That’s an area of concern.”

Aside from Alberta, many regions south of the Trans-Canada Highway also face the risk of below-normal soil moisture.

Dryness in those areas will become a bigger concern in the spring, Hadwen said, but noted the Prairies often get a lot of moisture at the end of February and into March.

“We could end up with a normal winter period, according to snowfall records, so we’re certainly not in a desperate situation right now.”

Soil moisture conditions can recover quickly, especially with spring rainfall, he added.

The current forecast from Environment Canada shows a trend of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures for the month ahead.

Hadwen expects a quick melt and start to spring, which means producers will need to find a sweet spot between spring frost and adequate soil moisture.

“The concern right now is if you wait to be free of frost, some of the soil moisture isn’t going to be there to germinate.”

Producers saw similar conditions last year, and in Manitoba reseeding claims were above the five-year average, as a late frost swept parts of the province.

Farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan had similar problems, Hadwen said.

“Some of them got hit by a frost and they had to reseed, and when they went to reseed soil moisture was very poor.”

There’s only so much producers can do to combat weather conditions, he said, but advised farmers to look at the hardiness of their seed varieties and plan accordingly.

Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow her at @jade_markus on Twitter.

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