By Jamie Rieger
Dryland farmers may be looking to the friendly skies for some precipitation to fall, but those fortunate enough to have irrigation, there should not be much concern about having enough water this year, despite the drought of last year.
“Last year was hot and dry, but I think irrigators can breath a sigh of relief,” said Terrence Lazarus, general manager for St. Mary’s River Irrigation District.
“The dryland guys are probably sweating a bit,” he added. “But, there are two things that are almost certainties. One, it will rain in June, but we don’t know how much and two, in April or May, we will have a wet snowstorm. It could be an inch or it could be a couple feet. That’s the part we don’t know.”
While Alberta Environment snowpack reports indicate below-average accumulations in the mountains, they caution that more than half of the season’s snow has yet to fall.
Those with dryland and irrigated fields are seeding the dryland now so they can focus on the irrigated fields later.
“They are seeding on dryland now, so they can concentrating on their irrigated fields when the water comes,” he said.
County of Forty Mile councillor Steve Wikkerink said he knows of a few dryland producers who have seeded their spring wheat, adding that some of the hilly areas got incredibly hard last year due to the dry conditions, so some are opting to seed earlier to stay ahead of the eight-ball.
Wikkerink also recommended that farmers be cautious of any fusarium that survived the winter.
“Guys should be careful because of the open winter we had. Fusarium won’t survive a hard winter, but it can live in soil and straw cover, especially when there is a lot of freeze and thaw happening,” said Wikkerink.
Lazarus also expects the taps to get turned on early in May.
“We haven’t set a date yet, but it is usually the week of May 9. There is good snow pack and we have good storage; so right now we are still aiming for May 9 for the whole district,” he said. “Once we fill the pipeline, and pressurize the main canal, the water will be flowing through the system.”
Irrigators last year were allocated 16 inches per acre.
“Last year, it was a district-wide allocation. This year, the board decided it will be 16 inches, but it will be at the farm gate,” said Lazarus. “Before the allocation, we are expecting farmers to be talking to their SM supervisors more. This helps us and it helps the farmer. The water gets turned on and off properly and we are not losing water out the other end.”
“Say on one field, they only need 10 inches, but need more on another field. They can bump that water to the other field, but they have to work with SMRID on the process and they have to get approval to do it.”
While the change may be more cumbersome for producers, Lazarus said in the long run, it will improve water usage and reduce water waste.
“We have improved on our efficiencies. We want the water to go on the field, not out the other end,” he said.