The Frozen Harvest — Images of Alberta's Ice Storm

Just east of Westlock, Alberta, whole fields of standing canola are encased in ice. This latest storm that rolled through late Saturday night was insult added to the injury of five to ten inches of snow that fell Friday, October 14, 2016. These scenes at Westlock aren’t rare right now: huge areas of central and northern Alberta — a major canola growing region — are affected.

Combines haven’t moved since early September across much of this region, or those that have been bold (or desperate) enough to try harvesting snowed-in canola have been rolling in the dead of night when it’s coldest. While it works, sort of, the heat generated by the combine leads to melting, and then the inevitable re-freeze of the equipment — those without a heated shop don’t have even this option.

Photo credit: Sydney Vos Seigle, 2016
Photo credit: Sydney Vos Siegle, 2016

Many farmers have more than half of their harvest still in the field, exposed not just to the weathering and quality losses of snow and ice, but at risk of significant yield losses as well.

And once it’s off the field (if the weather smartens up), it’s likely going to need drying before it can be safely stored. Drying takes time and costs money.

Canola prices are marching steadily higher, as Alberta Agriculture pegs the provincial harvest at over 70% complete, but only at 55%-65% for the central and northern portions of the province. While there is wheat and oats in the field, much of what’s left standing is canola.

Canola encased in ice. Photo credit: Sydney Vos Siegle, 2016
Canola encased in ice. Photo credit: Sydney Vos Siegle, 2016

This latest round of awful weather leaves farmers with several questions — how will crop insurance view frozen crop? Will the melt forecast for some areas at end of this week actually happen? And, if so, what mess will they find once the ice and snow melt away? For those without a dryer, what’s your best option? And what about fall field work — what do you do about fertilizer options?

Ice covered tractor
Photo credit: Sydney Vos Siegle, 2016

In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring some of these questions and would love your feedback on your toughest harvests — what worked, what didn’t, if you’ve ever done spring harvests and, if so, how they turned out.

Images, feedback, and thoughts are welcome at [email protected] or Tweet us @realagriculture.

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