“Breaking Point: The Alarming Crisis in Alberta’s Drought-Ridden Fields and Its Impact on the Future of Agriculture”

Cattle graze at sunset near Cochrane, Alta., on June 8. The chair of the Alberta Beef Producers says where drought conditions are affecting producers, the situation has grown severe. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) says a dire situation has emerged for various municipalities, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the province.

“There’s just not enough time, if we did have the moisture required, and just too late germination. So it’s a pretty scary situation,” Paul McLauchlin said.

Such conditions are likely to spark some bigger conversations about the future of food security in the province, McLauchlin said, especially when it comes to agricultural disasters.

This year, multiple municipalities have declared agricultural disasters, including: 

  • County of Stettler (June 14).
  • County of Paintearth (June 20).
  • Vulcan County (June 21).
  • Foothills County (June 28).
  • Cypress County (July 5).
  • Wheatland County (July 5).

The latest moves follow devastating drought conditions two years ago when multiple provincial municipalities declared agricultural disasters.


RMA president Paul McLauchlin says he expects a doubling of the number of agricultural disasters declared in the province so far this year. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

“We’re definitely into a trend,” McLauchlin said. “I think that we need to start looking for conversations around efficiency in our use of agricultural disasters, what type of mitigation we can have. 

“Coming into a hotter and drier future, we’ve got to start having bigger discussions on how we can mitigate this for the long run.”

In declaring the disaster in Wheatland County, located east of Calgary, officials said the problem is “urgent,” stating that the drought means there’s very little water for crops. For some producers, any precipitation may be too late.

The Special Areas Board, which covers more than five million acres in east-central Alberta, also declared an agricultural disaster, for Special Area No. 2, 3, and 4 on July 12, the second time it had done so in more than 20 years.

“Dry conditions are not new to the Special Areas, but ongoing moisture deficiencies and hot temperatures have devastated crops and pasture throughout the region,” wrote Jordon Christianson, chair of the board, in a statement. 

“Producers are struggling to find enough grass, water and feed for their cattle. Farmers are facing widespread crop failures. Significant grasshopper infestations are making a very difficult situation worse in many parts of the Special Areas.”

Ed Vandenberg, who farms potatoes, dry beans and corn near Enchant, Alta., says he’s fortunate to have irrigation, because without it, he wouldn’t have a crop this year — but it has led to challenges for his neighbours.

“It just puts a bit of a negative gloom over the area, when neighbours get together and they’re talking about the crops and the state of the crops,” Vandenberg said.

“It’s discouraging when you have good crops, and the potential and the promise of a good harvest, that brings a smile to farmers’ faces. But they’re far and few between right now.” 

Agriculture is a key part of Alberta’s economy, contributing $8.1 billion in GDP in 2021 and employing more than 58,300 Albertans, according to Invest Alberta. 

Brodie Haugan, chair of Alberta Beef Producers, said though the drought areas may be getting smaller, where it is affecting producers it is severe. 

Extreme drought and weather in the past has led beef producers in Canada and in the United States to thin herds in near-record numbers. That’s taking place again this year, Haugan said.

“A lot of operations that were forced to take measures in past years haven’t been able to build their numbers back this year,” Haugan said. 

Municipal agricultural disasters don’t automatically trigger funding or program responses. They are used to signal that the conditions that farmers are facing are growing dire to provincial and federal governments.

But McLauchlin, the RMA president, said they are an important exercise, and aren’t taken lightly.

Conditions in the Special Areas, which cover more than five million acres in east-central Alberta, are shown in these two photos. The Special Areas Board says ongoing moisture deficiencies and hot temperatures have devastated crops and pasture throughout the region. (Submitted by Special Areas Board)

Moving forward, he said conversations were starting to take shape around what the future of agriculture in the province might look like.

“South Africa had a [dire] drought. And they responded to it by actually using the landscape to mitigate and create a more certain future, whether it was a better use of water, water recycling, check dams and a lot of other conversations — even around crop choices,” he said.

“So I think those discussions have happened lately. But I think that … at the end of this year, we need to start having those bigger conversations with multiple folks at the table, and decide how we’re going to take this on in the future.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Alberta Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson said it was working with the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation to support producers who are considering putting their crops to alternate uses, rather than waiting until maturity to harvest.

“We have heard the concerns of crop and livestock producers, and continue to closely monitor the situation and explore possible support options,” spokesperson Callum Reid wrote in a statement.

Alberta, known for its vast agricultural lands, is currently facing a grave challenge: a severe drought that has taken a toll on its fields and raised concerns about the future of farming in the region. The province’s farmers, who rely on water availability for successful crop production and livestock maintenance, are grappling with the devastating consequences of the ongoing water shortage. This article delves into the alarming situation, its causes, and the potential implications for Alberta’s agricultural sector.

Drought is a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall that leads to water scarcity and adverse impacts on various sectors, including agriculture. In recent years, climate change has intensified the frequency and severity of droughts worldwide. Alberta’s current drought scenario is a direct result of declining precipitation patterns and changing weather patterns influenced by climate change. As a result, the province is experiencing reduced water availability, affecting both crop production and livestock management.

Multiple factors have contributed to the severity of the drought in Alberta. Declining precipitation patterns have resulted in reduced rainfall, leading to a significant water deficit. Additionally, the melting of glaciers and reduced snowpack, which serve as vital water reservoirs, has further exacerbated the water scarcity issue. Changing weather patterns influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation have also played a role in altering rainfall patterns in the region. Furthermore, human activities and water mismanagement have contributed to the scarcity of water resources.

The toll on agriculture has been immense. Crop failure and reduced yields have become increasingly common due to the lack of water available for irrigation. Farmers are struggling to maintain their crops and are facing significant financial losses. Livestock farmers are also facing challenges as water scarcity affects the availability of drinking water for animals, leading to decreased herd sizes and reduced productivity. Additionally, forage shortages have emerged, making it difficult to sustain livestock.

The economic consequences of the drought extend beyond the farming community. Alberta’s agricultural industries, such as food processing and distribution, are heavily reliant on a stable agricultural sector. With the drought impacting crop yields and livestock production, these industries face financial strain, leading to potential job losses and economic instability in rural areas. Moreover, the ripple effects on local communities and food security are a cause for concern, as decreased agricultural output can result in higher food prices and limited access to fresh, locally produced food.

To mitigate the effects of the drought, sustainable water management practices are crucial. This includes efficient irrigation systems, water conservation measures, and the implementation of water reuse and recycling systems. Farmers can also explore the adoption of drought-resistant crop varieties that require less water for growth. Technological advancements, such as precision agriculture techniques and the integration of remote sensing and data analytics, can help optimize water usage and improve crop management.

Government support and policy interventions play a vital role in assisting farmers during drought conditions. This can include financial aid programs, insurance coverage for crop losses, and investments in water infrastructure development. Collaboration between government agencies, research institutions, and farmers’ associations is essential to ensure effective drought management strategies and the dissemination of knowledge and best practices.

The drought crisis in Alberta raises important questions about the future of farming in the region. Shifting agricultural practices and land use may be necessary to adapt to changing climate conditions. Farmers might need to explore alternative crops or diversify their agricultural activities to reduce dependency on water-intensive crops. Increased reliance on irrigation and the development of water infrastructure, such as reservoirs and water storage facilities, can provide a more reliable water supply for agricultural activities. However, these solutions come with their own challenges, including high costs and potential environmental impacts.

The impact of the drought crisis is not evenly distributed across all farmers. Small-scale farmers often face greater difficulties in adapting to drought conditions due to limited resources and access to financial support. Efforts should be made to ensure their inclusion and support through targeted assistance programs and capacity-building initiatives.

Nevertheless, the current crisis also presents opportunities for innovation and diversification within the agricultural sector. Farmers can explore alternative farming practices, such as hydroponics or vertical farming, which require less water and land. Moreover, advancements in technology and digital agriculture can enable farmers to optimize resource management and increase productivity in a sustainable manner.

Addressing the drought crisis requires collaborative efforts and community initiatives. Water conservation and efficient water use programs can be implemented at a local level, encouraging farmers to adopt sustainable practices and share their experiences with one another. Farmer networks and knowledge sharing platforms can facilitate the exchange of information and foster resilience within the agricultural community. Additionally, community-based climate resilience strategies can be developed to collectively tackle the challenges posed by the drought and build a more sustainable future.

Looking beyond Alberta, valuable lessons can be learned from drought-prone regions worldwide. International examples of drought mitigation and adaptation strategies can provide insights into effective water management practices, innovative farming techniques, and policy frameworks. By drawing upon global experiences and collective action, Alberta’s farmers can forge a path forward amidst the “scary situation” posed by the current drought crisis.

The drought crisis in Alberta demands immediate attention and comprehensive efforts to safeguard the future of farming. It is crucial to recognize the interconnectedness of climate change, water management, and agricultural sustainability to ensure the resilience of the agricultural sector and the well-being of farmers, communities, and food systems in the province. By adopting sustainable practices, embracing innovation, and fostering collaboration, Alberta’s agricultural sector can navigate the challenges posed by climate change and water scarcity, securing a sustainable future for farming in the region.

The ongoing “scary situation” in Alberta’s drought-stricken fields has raised significant concerns about the future of farming in the region. As the agricultural sector grapples with severe water scarcity and its consequences, it is essential to explore potential suggestions and strategies to address the challenges at hand. Here are some suggestions that can help mitigate the impact of the drought and ensure a more resilient future for farming in Alberta:

  1. Sustainable Water Management: Implement sustainable water management practices to optimize water usage in agriculture. This includes promoting efficient irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation and precision agriculture, that minimize water wastage. Additionally, investing in water storage and distribution infrastructure, such as reservoirs and water recycling systems, can help ensure a more reliable water supply for farmers.

  2. Drought-Resistant Crop Varieties: Encourage the adoption of drought-resistant crop varieties that require less water for growth. Research and development in breeding and genetic engineering can help create crops that are better adapted to arid conditions. Promote the use of drought-tolerant seeds to increase the resilience of crops against water scarcity.

  3. Precision Agriculture and Technology Integration: Embrace technological advancements in agriculture, such as remote sensing, data analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, to optimize resource management. These technologies can provide real-time information on soil moisture levels, crop health, and weather patterns, enabling farmers to make data-driven decisions and improve water efficiency.

  4. Government Support and Policy Interventions: Governments should provide financial support, subsidies, and insurance programs to assist farmers during drought conditions. Establish policies that incentivize sustainable water management practices and promote the adoption of climate-smart agriculture techniques. Collaborate with farmers’ associations and research institutions to develop tailored solutions and support mechanisms.

  5. Education and Knowledge Sharing: Promote education and training programs for farmers to enhance their understanding of climate change impacts and adaptation strategies. Facilitate knowledge sharing platforms and farmer networks where experiences, best practices, and innovative solutions can be shared. Encourage collaboration between farmers, researchers, and industry experts to foster resilience and collective problem-solving.

  6. Community-Based Initiatives: Encourage community engagement and grassroots initiatives to address the challenges posed by the drought. Foster collaboration among farmers, local organizations, and government agencies to develop community-driven solutions. Establish farmer-led water conservation and stewardship programs that promote sustainable farming practices and provide support to those affected by the drought.

  7. Climate Resilience Planning: Develop long-term climate resilience plans at the regional and provincial levels. These plans should include strategies for water resource management, land-use planning, and risk assessment. Integrate climate change considerations into agricultural policies, ensuring that farming practices align with the evolving climatic conditions.

  8. Research and Development: Invest in research and development efforts focused on drought mitigation and adaptation in agriculture. Support research institutions and organizations that study the impacts of drought on crops, livestock, and ecosystems. Encourage collaboration between academia, industry, and government to drive innovation and develop practical solutions.

By implementing these suggestions, Alberta’s agricultural sector can navigate the current drought crisis and build a more resilient future. These strategies focus on sustainable water management, innovation, collaboration, and policy support to ensure the long-term viability of farming in the face of climate change and water scarcity.

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