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Irricana farmers lose crops in hailstorm

(First published in the Rocky View Weekly on August 8, 2016)

In the 40 years Leonard Wright has been farming in the Irricana area, he said this season’s pea crop was about the best he had ever grown.

A rainy end of June and very wet July washed the dry conditions plaguing his crops earlier in the season away.

With the peas growing green, tall and strong, Wright boasted to friends and neighbours only hail could stop it now.

On July 30, a massive storm rolled over his farm sending hail spiraling down and devastating his 1,200 acres of wheat, barley, canola and peas.

He said he was thankful he was away from his farm and out of cell service when it happened.

“It’s very traumatic to watch it,” Wright said.

“It’s almost better that you’re away.”

Driving back from a camping trip the following day, he said a flood of text messages and photos filled his phone as soon he entered a cell service area.

He said before he had a chance to see his field, he had a perfect understanding this year would no longer yield a prized pea crop.

“It’s an overwhelming (sadness),” he said. “It just changes the whole game.”

The lamentation for a season of lost work lasted about a day, Wright said, before his focus shifted to what’s next.

He walked through his fields to see what could be salvaged as a crop, what could be salvaged as cattle feed and how he can process the debris in his fields to ensure he can plant next season.

“There’s just so many questions,” Wright said. “You start thinking about them and work to try and figure out an action.”

For Irricana farmer and cattle rancher Earl Munro, who lost 100 per cent of his 1,000 acres of crops in the storm, many of those questions still remain unanswered.

Though hail has taken out all of his crops in the past, he said this is the first storm that has the potential to result in almost no residual feed for his cattle.

“It’s different,” he said. “This one I’m not even sure we could cut.

“We’d probably be selling cows (but) we’re still struggling with that.”

Munro said farming in Alberta comes with plenty of risk, including a storm like that of July 30.

With 16 years experience farming in the Irricana area, he said this would not be the last time a hailstorm devastated the area.

“You have to plan based on it,” Munro said. “We’ll survive.”

In the end, Wright managed to salvage 20 per cent of his crop, which he said made it only the second worst hailstorm in his four decades of farming.

With his feet more grounded on where he stands for next season, he said his mind keeps returning to his pea crop and what it could have been.

“It’s frustrating because I (want to) really know what it yielded,” Wright said. “Next year is the one, though.”

“We can finally retire next year,” responded Munro.

“That’s right,” Wright added.

Published in Journalism Writing Portfolio