By J.W. Schnarr
A hot, dry July means farmers are irrigating more than they have in years.
Jam Tamminga, manager of operations with the St. Mary River Irrigation District, said this year’s usage is the most water he has seen used in the past five years.
“All the canals are currently running at capacity,” he said. “We’re making all the deliveries to farmers that have been requested.”
With capacity at Waterton, St. Mary, and Ridge Reservoir all around 90 per cent of full supply, Tamminga said SMRID has been able to draw on internal storage within the district without issue.
“We’re using our reservoirs to meet downstream demand,” he said.
“We’re well-placed. there’s not going to be a water shortage this year.”
While potato growers are making sure their crops stay well-watered, potato plants can have issues when the weather gets really hot – and stays really hot.
“Anything above about 25 degrees Celsius, our plants shut down,” said Potato Growers of Alberta executive director Terence Hochstein. “They just exist. They don’t like the heat.
He added the high temperatures could cause potato plants to grow heat runners, causing secondary growth along the sides of the hills.
“That’s not healthy either,” he said.
Hochstein said the crops are being well managed at the moment, and that concern would mostly come from another week or two of similar temperatures.
For now, potato farmers continue to extensively water the crops and keep an eye on things. It’s too soon in the season to know if the heat will affect the yield.
“We haven’t seen a long, extended heat period in a number of years,” said Hochstein.
“You just hunker down and manage it,” he said. “As long as the water continues to flow, and we’re able to manage it, we’ll be fine.
“Managing your water is the big thing right now, and keeping your soil profile where it needs to be,” said Hochstein. “The last thing you want is to start drying that crop up now.”
A lack of moisture isn’t an issue for sugar beets, either, as they are another heavily-irrigated crop.
Robert Rutkowski, an agriculture assistant with the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, said managing sugar beets in the heat comes down to ensuring the proper amount of irrigation is being used.
“From what I’ve seen going on in the fields, there hasn’t been much damage from the heat,” he said. “Of course, there will be some fields worse than others, but it all depends on irrigation.”
“If a farmer is irrigating a lot, and has the right moisture content in the soil, it’s not going to be that damaging.”
Tamminga said he expects SMRID water requests to begin dropping off soon.
“Crops are maturing fairly rapidly,” he said. “I expect in the next week or two that water demand will slowly drop off, and we’ll start putting water back in our reservoirs.”
“As long as (farmers) keep their water orders coming in on a timely basis, we’re able to meet all their demands, because we’re able to shuffle the water around within our system to serve the individual users.
“And they’ve been very good about that.”
The high temperatures are expected to last into next week.