Central Alberta’s bountiful harvest of 1928

Another fall harvest is well underway.

Although many crops were late in getting planted, for much of September (at least so far), there has been great harvesting weather with several warm dry days. Moreover, regardless of all the diversification of the Central Alberta economy, for the past 125 years, agricultural has remained one of the key economic pillars of the region.

The financial ups and downs in that sector are quickly felt across the whole economy.

Unfortunately, Central Alberta’s farmers have faced some truly devastating years. The poor crop of 1919, followed by the brutal winter of 1919-1920, meant that many farmers did not have enough feed for their livestock, causing heavy losses of animals due to starvation and disease.

The closest the Red Deer area came to a total crop loss due to drought was in 1922. Yields were generally so light that several old-timers reminisced that a man had little trouble keeping up with the stacking of the sheaves coming off the binders, as there were so few bundles for them to collect.

On the other hand, there have been some absolutely magnificent harvests. One of the very best on record came in the fall of 1915. There had been heavy spring rains followed by a warm dry summer and fall. Crop yields were wonderful. Moreover, because of the heavy demand for grain and livestock that accompanied the First World War, prices remained high. Local farmers experienced a financial windfall.

If there was one drawback to the banner year of 1915, it was the fact that so many young men had enlisted for the War, thereby causing a significant shortage of farm labour to help with the harvest.

The year 1927 brought some wonderful crops of grain. Prices were very good. Unfortunately, 1927 also brought extreme weather to Central Alberta. Rocky Mountain House was almost completely demolished by a tornado in July. Terrific hailstorms hit many farmers around Red Deer hard. Hence, what should have been a good local harvest was generally wiped out.

Fortunately, 1928 brought better luck.

Growing conditions were near ideal. Crop yields were excellent. Disastrous communist government policies caused record low production across the fertile wheat belts of the Ukraine. Consequently, world wheat prices remained high. An estimated 70% of the near record western Canadian wheat crop was successfully exported.

The good times for local farmers quickly spread across the community. Local merchants reported a sharp increase in sales. The T. Eaton Company decided to open a department store and groceteria, the first national chain to do so in Red Deer.

Farm machinery dealers had trouble keeping up with the demand for new tractors, threshing machines and other farm equipment.

The local automobile dealers and garages also experienced a wonderful increase in business. Although most cars and trucks were still poorly suited to Alberta winters, many people dreamed of becoming a vehicle owner and now felt that they could finally afford one.

Although the crop of 1929 was much smaller than the one in 1928 because of dry conditions, the boom in Red Deer continued. The City recorded its best year of new construction since the big boom before the First World War.

Then, when it looked like prosperity had finally returned to stay, disaster struck. The American stock markets crashed in October. The world plunged into the worst economic depression in modern times. The local farm sector and the community as a whole faced another decade of hard economic times and often destitution. Another Alberta boom had suddenly gone bust.

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