Walter Fritsche felt ill as he watched the first snow settle on his crops earlier this month.
“It’s kind of a sickening feeling to watch it snow and know you’re not done,” said Fritsche, a grain farmer east of Dawson Creek.
Fritsche is one of many farmers in the region who are at risk of losing crops after the one-two punch of a wet fall and early winter.
Some say the snowfall is among the earliest they’ve seen.
With crops still in the fields, the snow threatens to have a broader economic impact.
“I can’t recall being shut down this early,” Fritsche said Oct. 19. “Usually we do a lot of combining in October, and we haven’t combined one day this October.”
Sharla Pearce, administrator of the BC Grain Producers Association, said this is the first time since 1981 that the association’s research fields have had crops snowed-in.
“We were only able to get off about half of our canola. We couldn’t get all our cereals off before the snow hit,” she said. “What I’ve heard is producers are breaking even, but their profit is lying in the fields.”
That’s bad news B.C.’s multi-million dollar grain and oilseed industry, 80 per cent of which is concentrated in the Peace.
Shaun Grant, general manager of the South Peace Grain Cleaning Co-op, said he knows of one mid-size producer who’s pegged his losses at $1 million.
“There wasn’t time to complete the harvest,” he said. “The ground conditions have been very wet and soft, and then it started to rain and that delayed harvest. Then the snow came right behind it. There just physically weren’t enough days for guys to accomplish what they needed to accomplish.”
Farmers who had contracts to supply high-quality grain could now be forced to sell snow-damaged crops at lower prices, he said.
With ranchers already suffering from declining cattle prices, that’s bad news for the local economy.
“It’s going to be a significant impact,” Grant said. “The businesses that tend to see farmers in their stores are going to feel it. With the price of cattle dropping, nobody has any money to spend.”
“This is a bad year,” he added. “It’s exceptionally bad.”
Fritsche, however, counts himself as relatively lucky. He’d managed to complete around 90 per cent of the harvest—with just a hundred acres left. He’d already swathed the field, giving the crops on the ground some protection from the snow.
But he said his family would feel that last ten per cent.
“That last little bit is always your profit,” he said.