Sask. farmers hoping for rain amid widespread drought

·4 min read
Dry soil conditions are plaguing much of Saskatchewan (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC  - image credit)
Dry soil conditions are plaguing much of Saskatchewan (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC - image credit)

Drive around the province and you will likely see farmers out in the fields seeding this year's crop. You might also notice the billowing clouds of dust forming on gravel roads and behind tractors in the field, a sign of the drought blanketing much of the province this spring.

For many farmers, particularly those in the southern part of the province which is experiencing an extreme drought, seeding this year is akin to betting the farm on getting a million-dollar rain.

Adrienne Ivey farms with her husband near Ituna, about 134 kilometres north east of Regina.

She can often be found on her hands and knees sifting through the dirt, trying to gauge how far down she needs to dig to find some moisture.

"Right now that moisture is so deep down, we don't have any hope of putting seeds into moisture," Ivey said.

"If we did, they would never grow because they would just be too deep down. We might have to dig to China to find the moisture at this point."

Ivey said this spring is the driest she's seen in the more than 20 years she's farmed.

"We are very much looking skyward, looking for a rain."

According to the Canadian Drought Monitor, most of southern Saskatchewan is dealing with either severe or extreme drought conditions.

Canadian Drought Monitor shows drought levels across Saskatchewan.
Canadian Drought Monitor shows drought levels across Saskatchewan.(Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)

Those conditions don't improve much as you go north, where the province is dealing with severe to moderate drought conditions.

For Ivey, the dry, dusty ground conditions meant gambling that the crop seeded so far will get some moisture in the near future.

According to the latest crop report, Saskatchewan farmers have seeded 38 per cent of the province's crop, up from the five-year average of 22 per cent. That report noted crops are slow to emerge thanks to a cool spring and lack of rain.

But it's not just crops that are bearing the brunt of the dry conditions.

Ivey also ranches. She said livestock producers are starting to dip into emergency feed stocks because of poor pasture for cattle.

"The sooner the grass can grow and we can get cattle out to pasture, everyone will be much happier on the livestock side as well."

She said formerly full dugouts are starting to dry up, leaving fewer pastures with water for cattle.

Garner Deobald ranches near Hodgeville, about 213 kilometers south west of Regina, and said livestock producers have experienced droughts before — but this time feels different.

"This time one of the bigger problems is that it covers such a large area of the prairies," he said.

In the past one area might be dry, but ranchers could readily find feed in a nearby community that had adequate rain, Deobald said.

"You have to really go far and wide to find feed if it was available."

Water supplies threatened if drought continues

Dave Sauchyn, director of the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative at the University of Regina, has access to 1,000 years of water levels on the prairies. He said over those years, there have been hundreds of droughts.

"But the problem is, as we go forward, they keep occurring in a climate that's getting warmer and warmer... So when they do occur, they tend to be more severe because they're occurring under warmer conditions."

Sauchyn said farmers are the first to feel the effects of a drought.

But if Saskatchewan continues without some significant rainfall, smaller towns and municipalities will also suffer as reservoirs and small creek beds — the source of drinking water for those communities — dries up, Sauchyn said.

Next in line to get impacted will be cities that rely on large bodies of water, like the Saskatchewan river system, Sauchyn said.

"There's nothing more devastating for the prairies than a drought," Sauchyn said.

Farmers like Ivey are hoping that Environment Canada's forecasted rains this week become reality.

If not, there's always a bright side.

She said the current lack of moisture means anything seeded hasn't yet germinated, a silver-lining with overnight freezing temperatures predicted for the weekend.

"Maybe that is not a bad thing looking at the forecast."

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