The Prairies are receiving some much-needed precipitation this week, but it won't come close to solving the drought conditions.

Trevor Hadwen with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says that right now, in terms of the Prairie overview, over 75 per cent of the Prairie region is considered to be in a drought situation, which includes 87 per cent of the agricultural land within the area.

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He explains that the Prairies have seen such long-term drought conditions that there is a deep deficit in catching up to where moisture levels should be.

 "The rainfall and snow you'll likely get over the next couple of days here will improve the situation. It will provide some moisture needed to begin that agricultural season. But it's certainly not going to solve the long-term drought conditions that we've seen.

According to Hadwen, we will get to the point where producers will rely on seed germination, but the current challenge is that we need more moisture in the subsoil.

"We don't have those reserves, and that puts us at risk later in the year. As we move through the year, we need to continually receive that moisture on a more timely basis than we would normally need because there is a lack of moisture further down in the soil."

Drought is not new to Western Canada; in fact, Hadwen says that it is typical for portions of the area to go through droughts.

"A large portion of the Prairies have been in drought for quite a while, and the severity of that drought has been fairly significant. What we tend to look at is the last three to four years have been drier than normal."

He says the Prairies have been in drought-like conditions for at least three years and, in some regions, five years.

"There are a number of steps you can take to reduce risks in terms of drought, and the first step is to try to conserve as much moisture in terms of soil moisture and on-surface water as possible. There are options for different seeding techniques. Most producers are looking at direct seeding. We're also starting to look at purchasing seeding varieties that are a little bit more drought tolerant, which comes with additional costs and the potential for not as much gain in terms of yield production. Still, you're at least mitigating some of the risk." 

Another big part of the continued dry conditions is the livestock industry, which ensures enough feed and water for their animals.

"The demand for feed is obviously going to increase after multiple years of low production, and when we start to run out of water in some of our dugouts and stock ponds, that becomes a big issue. Luckily, in most regions of the Prairies, we still have good water conditions. Southern Alberta is the biggest exception to that. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, most of our depots are doing fairly well. Our surface water supplies are there to provide water for livestock."

Hadwen mentions that livestock producers have even had to reduce the number of cows they are grazing.

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"They have sold a lot of their cows over the last number of years to try to reduce the cost of keeping those cattle and feeding them on bought feed. Another adaptation requirement that farmers are forced to do sometimes to adapt to the drought is to reduce their herd size and purchase feeds and supplement the grass production in that way."

Looking at this past winter's precipitation levels, it's been odd. Hadwen says totals look normal in the Prairies, but there is a catch.

"The bigger challenge this year is that we had such warm winter weather, and a lot of the moisture we got throughout the winter melted, which did not benefit the soil moisture or the stream flow. We ended up with a lot of moisture sublimating from going directly from snowfall into evaporation, and we lost out on a lot of that moisture. We've also had warmer than normal conditions on exposed soils, resulting in increased water loss and moisture loss from the soil. When you have early springs like we're dealing with right now, you're losing moisture that would normally be trapped by a little bit of snow cover, and that dries out the soil as well. So, we're certainly in a situation, right across the Prairies, where we need moisture and some good spring rainfalls or wet snowfall to help us get things started this year."