2017 - A Year in Review

  Hort Snacks - January 2018
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 Every year, I think, “I should look back and summarize what happened”. And, every year, it is a challenge to do so, partly because it is hard to remember what happened and partly because it is hard to generalize events, based on limited information. Regardless, I’ve always advocated in favour of reflection, simply because it helps to provide some closure and compartmentalization (or mental storage). You can also gain perspective, which is beneficial (if not always obviously helpful).

I would (and have) summarize 2017 as mostly ok, even, dare I say, average. I don’t think that I can say that there weren’t challenges, but there didn’t seem to be huge, sweeping challenges, as in previous years. Obviously, that can’t be said for every single person, but in general, most people seemed to come through things OK.

Most “conversations” start with a discussion of the weather. I’ve mentioned it before, but if you are interested in the weather, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (with some other provincial and federal departments) has a dazzling array of weather stations gathering data from across the province. Even better is the fact that much of this data is analyzed and you can access all sorts of interesting things on the Alberta Climate Information Service website (www.agriculture.alberta.ca/acis/). There are maps, individual station data reports and much, much more. Colourful maps and charts can be interesting on a general level, and area-specific information can be helpful, if you need it.

  • Winter 2016/2017 was a bit on the strange side, in my opinion. There were the standard bone-chilling stretches of cold that drive many away to warmer climes and that make us both proud and sad to be Canadian. Similar to the previous year, we had a pretty mild winter, or at least significant stretches of time where things “weren’t too bad”. In the past couple of years, we seem to have a rapid/sudden arrival of winter, followed by stretches of “fall-ish” weather, interspersed by cold reminders. In 2017, we had a pretty hard frost to start things off, but November and December have been ultra-mild.
  • Depending on where you live, it was either fairly dry (but not as dry as it had been last year), or fairly wet. Most parts of the province came into the growing season with good levels of moisture, but most parts of the province seemed to stay pretty dry for the rest of the season, with limited moisture falling. But most people weren’t complaining about being out of water, which was nice. If you live in the Northeast, you were wet, but things dried off enough to get things done in a satisfactory manner.
  • There was no major late spring frost this year, and most people report this year as having been good to excellent, in terms of fruit crop production (I include all fruit in that, not just berries). Dry conditions resulted in excellent quality, things didn’t get too hot to accelerate harvest excessively and yields rebounded nicely from 2016.
  • Severe weather events seem to be a perennial challenge for producers most of the time now, although it wasn’t something that came up a whole lot in calls over the season (thankfully). Hail seems to be the usual (bad) flavour of the day, most years, but this year, we didn’t hear of too many producers that were hit. Central Alberta received a number of severe high wind events, which did a lot of damage to trees in the region. Clean up has taken a long to time.
  • As a result of the predominately dry conditions, the number of reports of disease was significantly down, which is never a bad thing. We didn’t hear much about root or foliar issues, which is great. Insect pest reports were also minimal, for whatever reason.
  • In complete opposite of the previously delivered statement, there were lots of problems reported in trees, whether shelterbelt or rural acreage. The cause of damage and decline in trees is always challenging to pinpoint, but a combination of environmental stresses is mostly likely to blame.
  • Some of the diseases that we’ve been concerned about in recent years, particularly Late blight of potato and tomato, were not reported or discovered in any major way this season (for a third year in a row), likely due in large part to improved monitoring and careful management in crops. The dry conditions didn’t hurt either.
  • Limited resources has resulted in a decline in the amount of monitoring and surveillance for problem and/or invasive insect pests, mainly in fruit and vegetable crops (there is monitoring for invasive pests in some horticulture crops). Monitoring in some locations by individual producers found some pest issues, but mostly things were quiet. Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) is still a major concern for Alberta, as it is a major problem across North America. The main concern is still day neutral strawberries (fall production) and raspberries (especially fall-bearing types). Levels of SWD are still not such that you might be looking at significant inputs for control/management, but there is definitely a potential need in coming years for increased monitoring and vigilance. We delivered more information and training for individual producer monitoring this past year.
    • Other insect pests, such as Swede Midge and Pea Leaf Weevil, weren’t monitored for this year in horticulture crops, but surveillance has been underway in field crops, and spread and populations are on the rise.
    • In commercial potato crops, monitoring for insects such as Potato Psyllid is ongoing, with some insects trapped. This season a very small number were found to be infected with the pathogen that causes Zebra chip.
  • Continued changes and introduction of legislation or programs had some impact on horticulture crop producers, with some sectors affected more than others. Things like minimum wage, Farm Safety Legislation and other things need to be watched.
  • Horticulture extension programming was again quite extensive in 2017, with a range of events offered throughout the winter, spring, summer and fall, for the various horticulture sectors. Webinar offerings were maintained this year, and topics appeared to be more appealing to growers and industry. Topics were highly variable for programming, with something for everyone. While we offered many different events for people to learn at, we also were able to talk to many people on the phone or via email. It was a rewarding year and we hope that we were able to help out in a positive, impactful way.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on December 19, 2017.