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Some Alberta farmers might get a perfect storm, but the downpour’s not good news for all

Environment and Climate Change Canada is expecting a “ton” of rain for eastern, central and southern Alberta. 

Meteorologist Alysa Pederson said some communities in the southern part of the province will get a third of their annual rain accumulation between Tuesday and Wednesday, a much-needed dowsing for regions experiencing water shortages and drought. 

Areas under rainfall warnings extend from Red Deer east all the way to the Saskatchewan border, and south down past Medicine Hat and to Milk River. Some areas could see 50 to 75 millimetres of rain over the two-day period. 

“Heavy downpours can cause flash floods and water pooling on roads. Localized flooding in low-lying areas is possible,” the agency’s weather alerts page says. “Watch for possible washouts near rivers, creeks and culverts.”

The system is similar to an Alberta Clipper — but in this case it is known as a Montana Low.

“There’s a low pressure system developing east of the Rockies in Montana, and then it’s going to sit somewhere in eastern Montana and western North Dakota and so moisture is essentially coming right up from the Gulf of Mexico and rocking around this storm system into Alberta,” said Pederson.

It might seem that farmers across the province would all be jumping for joy, but it depends who you ask. 

It’s not the traditional definition of a rain cheque, but Humphrey Banack is ready for a sizeable deposit. 

“This will be like putting water into a bank account for us, eh? It will start to fill our reserves in the soil,” said Banack. He’s with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, the province’s largest general farm organization.  

When Banack says the rain is good news for farmers he stresses that his voice is one that carries broad strokes: different types of agriculture in different parts of the province. 

“Cattle production or in grains and oil seeds, the vast majority of us are dependent on rain and natural rainfall,” he said. 

For those looking to get grazing, the grass will green up. Some irrigation systems may also be able to delay turning the taps on, a move which would conserve water further into the growing season.

A man in suspenders stands in front of a green field.
Farmer Humphrey Banack is pictured standing in a canola field near Camrose, Alta., in 2020. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

On his own dry-land farm, Banack’s irrigation system comes from the sky, he said. So this storm system will help with seed germination. If paired with some heat, that can make for a great growing season. 

As long as his planting gets done in good time, Banack is on track — even before things are sprouting, farmers are thinking about the ticking clock of late summer and fall frost. 

“To get some of the temperatures coming up after this will be a godsend to us,” he said. 

Over at CP Farms, in Barnwell, Alta., Michel Camps has been putting in drainage trenches so he can best manage the rainfall he’s expecting. On his irrigation farm this kind of downpour could set him back instead of setting him up for the growing season. 

Lots of rain means waiting for the soil to dry out, and that means, in the middle of planting his potatoes, sugar beets, grain and corn, he’s got to hit pause.

Depending on how much comes down, that could mean a week to a 10-day delay, a shift in schedule he’ll be fighting against once the frost comes. 

“Don’t get me wrong. I want it to rain. I just don’t want four inches of it,” Camps said. 

If his fields see more than 100 millimetres, Camps said he’ll get flooded. With 50 to 75 millimetres he’ll be “borderline okay.” 

A better scenario, he said, would be seeing this moisture spread out over weeks instead of days.

All these are “what ifs,” as Camps calls them. At the end of the day he doesn’t know how much rain will actually fall.

The contingency planning reality of being a farmer is living in those what if’s until the storm actually comes through. 

Banack lives by similar wisdom.

“You know, my son farms with us and he said you can only worry about the things you can change, things you can’t change … don’t spend your day worrying about.”

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