Overlooked victims of Alberta’s September snowfalls were local farmers, who gamble their livelihood every year in order to provide for their families.
Members of the northern Alberta farming community of Mayerthorpe and its surrounding area are among those who depend on warm and sunny fall weather in order to complete their harvest each year.
This year’s monumentally cold and snowy early fall was a major obstacle that farming families have had to overcome.
“There isn’t much you can do at this point but hope for lots of wind and sun,” 32-year-old farmer and father of three Tony Tomkiewych said in early October, prior to the post-Thanksgiving warm-up.
“Close to 60 per cent of the fields are still uncompleted. Some look like they are almost unsalvageable,” he said.
The October break in the weather looked like the break Tomkiewych and thousands of other farmers across the province needed.
“We have a lot riding on these next two weeks,” he said.
Asked if he wanted his children to be farmers when they got older, Tomkiewych replied, “I hope they make sure to go to school and see that there are a lot of different jobs out there before settling on farming,”
It is estimated that the average farmer invests roughly $250 per acre farmed without the guarantee of breaking even.
“Crop insurance has become unaffordable for the average Joe,” 67-year-old farmer Jim Player said.
“The people that have already swathed are the only ones that have a chance at making money this year,” he said in an interview prior to the return of warm conditions.
People who have livestock may have chosen to use damaged crops for pasture or have it turned to silage.
Silage is grain fodder stored in an airtight environment, like a silo or grain bin, and then used to feed cattle and other livestock during the winter. Some barley farmers are looking at this option as their only way to make any money this year.
With the price of hay higher than normal, farmers that also maintain a herd of cattle are worried that they may not be able to afford to feed the animals a grass diet throughout winter without the help their average harvest income.
“Very few people can afford to be strictly farmers anymore,” rancher Dale Daniels said.
“The reality is without working a full-time job to provide a second income, many farmers would be unable to continue their operation,” Daniels added.
“What people don’t realize is this industry is essentially one big gamble, from the moment you start farming until the moment you retire.”