Rain brings hope to drought-stricken Western Canada

Mon Jun 22, 2009 1:13pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (Reuters) - A soaking rain Sunday has raised hopes of saving the new crop in the Western Canadian province of Saskatchewan, but it largely missed the severely dry areas of neighboring Alberta.

"It's almost gone from a dust bowl to a mud bowl (in places)," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada. "It's like a rainbow for growers and ranchers."

The rainbow halts, however, at the provincial boundary between Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Rainfall amounts ranged Sunday from 35.5 millimeters (1.4 inches) in the Saskatchewan city of Saskatoon to 25.2 millimeters (1 inch) further west in Kindersley, Saskatchewan. But it trickled down in Alberta to 11 millimeters in Medicine Hat and just 2 to 3 millimeters in Red Deer and Coronation.

Most crops are behind in development because of the driest spring in 50 years in Western Canada's wheat and canola growing region, combined with earlier cool temperatures. Canada is the world's top exporter of canola, a variant of rapeseed, and one of the biggest shippers of wheat.

Ranchers have also been facing higher feed costs with poor growth of pasture and hay land.

For west-central Saskatchewan, Sunday's rain was a crop-saver for plants already established, said Bruce Burnett, director of weather and market analysis for the Canadian Wheat Board.

"If we didn't receive this it was not going to get to anything," Burnett said. Those fields have likely still suffered yield damage and will need more rain to keep the crop growing, he said.   Continued...