Great past harvests in Central Alberta

Another Central Alberta harvest is well underway.

Many experts are predicting excellent crops and good prices. Since agriculture is such an important part of Central Alberta’s economy, this should make for a good year for the whole region, as well as for the local farmers.

Farmers face so many challenges in making a living that one often wonders how they are able to continue at all.

They can face sudden changes to the weather, such as hail and frost, that can quickly ruin a promising crop. On the other hand, many times when the harvest goes well, prices go down, leaving the farmers barely ahead.

Nevertheless, there have been some exceptionally good years when both yields and prices remained high.

The year 1915 was one such benchmark year. There were very heavy spring rains in June. So much rain fell that the Red Deer River and other streams in Central Alberta hit the highest flood levels in recorded history.

The rest of the year turned warm and dry. Conditions in the fall were almost ideal. Hence, farmers in Central Alberta and across western Canada were able to harvest the largest bumper crop in history.

The First World War was a tremendous tragedy in many different ways. However, the wartime demands meant that agricultural prices remained high. With much improved incomes, farmers were able to buy ‘new –fangled’ tractors and other mechanized equipment.

With farmers and city folk both sharing in the better economic times, automobiles became very popular. Many of Red Deer’s pioneer garages and car dealerships got their start in the period from 1915 to 1917.

The post-war period was an economic disaster. There were both poor crops due to drought and extremely low agricultural prices. Gradually, as the decade progressed, both crop yields and prices began to improve.

The favourable conditions for farmers peaked in 1928. While a cool wet spring delayed planting somewhat, most of the rest of the year proved warm and dry. Consequently, by August, the local harvest looked very promising.

As happens all too often in late summer, a bad hailstorm struck the Poplar Ridge and Balmoral districts on the west and east sides of Red Deer on Aug. 11.

Several farmers had their crops wiped out. Fortunately, however, many were covered by hail insurance.

There was a slight frost on Aug. 27 and killing frosts from Sept. 7-10. This caused some decrease in quality, particularly with the crops that had been seeded late.

Nevertheless, most local farmers were able to bring in one of the best harvests on record. Prices remained good. Farmers were particularly helped in the marketing of their grain by the Alberta Wheat Pool, which had been founded in 1923 and which had constructed a large elevator in Red Deer in the summer of 1928.

People quickly noticed the boost to the economy. Construction activity hit the best levels since the First World War. Besides the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, work began on four new business blocks, a new high school, the Nazarene Bible College and expansion of the Provincial Training School (now Michener Centre).

Moreover, Red Deer acquired its first national department store when the T. Eaton Company purchased W.E. Lord’s store. Alberta Government Telephones overhauled its telephone system so that it could install automatic telephones.

The 1929 crop was not as good as the one in 1928. Nevertheless, Red Deer’s modest boom was strong enough that it continued for some time after the stock market crash of October 1929. The local economy also benefited from the fact that wheat prices declined only slightly until the spring of 1930.

One of the best pieces of good news came in January of 1930 when the City of Red Deer used the profits of its recently acquired utilities system to both reduce light and power rates and cut local property taxes by 9%.

Thus, Red Deer was somewhat buffered from the onset of the Great Depression. When the hard times finally did hit, the community was able to handle the economic crisis better than many other places across North America.