Alberta’s billion-dollar drought

Jul 26, 2021

Heat waves and lack of precipitation exacerbating the situation

By Jean-Paul McDonald

2021 has been a tough year for farmers and ranchers in Alberta as the province continues to experience excessively dry conditions, along with record-shattering high temperatures. Approximately 80 per cent of western Canada’s agricultural land is experiencing drought this year, causing crop failures and withered pastures, which are putting pressure on cattle feed supplies.

While dry conditions are not all that unusual for the province, this year’s heat waves and lack of precipitation (including less snowfall over the winter and in early spring) are exacerbating the situation. Alberta’s minister of Agriculture, Devin Dreeshen, said that around 75 per cent of farmers in Alberta have insurance through Agricultural Financial Services Corp, which has already completed about 300 assessments, with another 255 scheduled for this week.

"The way that crop expectations and yield forecasts are dropping ... in the next month or so, we’ll probably hit $1-billion of yield loss,” said Dreeshen. Alberta’s Cypress County has already declared a state of emergency and has made plans to push federal and provincial legislators for relief.

According to Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist at Agri-Food Canada, large parts of Western Canada are going through a one-in-20-year drought, with some parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba going through a one-in-50-year episode. “To have the entire region – or almost the entire region – in such severe drought is extremely uncommon,” he said. Low soil moisture in the spring means more reliance on precipitation through the growing season, something that sadly hasn’t happened this year in many Western Canadian farming communities.

To add to the difficult growing season, wildfires are raging in several parts of Western Canada, creating hazy, smoke-tinted skies that can make breathing a challenge, especially in such high temperatures. Although wildfire smoke can sometimes help reduce soil moisture loss by blocking some of the sun’s energy, reducing evaporation from the surface, but with this year’s drought, subsurface moisture levels are too low to make any substantial difference.  


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