Difficult weather at the root of local farmers’ struggles

By William McGinn

Local farmers got an early advantage with the weather. Maybe too early.

A warm spell in April allowed cash croppers to start growing early, and the drought that has proceeded, as well as nights of frost, have caused some chaos.

Mark Torrey, member service representative for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, explained to the Advocate how these last few months have not been the greatest for crop growers. In the last month, most of the highly fertile southwestern Ontario saw less than 40 per cent of its average precipitation.

“The mild weather we had in March set the mood for an early spring,” said Torrey, “but a dip in temperatures during April left the corn and soybean planters parked as the soil temperatures were too cool. Despite the lack of moisture since March, farmers could usually count on some April showers. Those have passed us by for the most part,” said Torrey.

Joe Hickson, Midnight Acres.

Joe Hickson, owner of Midnight Acres Inc., a full-service seed business in Lindsay since 1992, spoke with the Advocate about what his business has been like this season. Midnight Acres also got an early start to the season, which he said was difficult but not disastrous. After getting warm early it turned so cold and wet afterwards that production had to shut down for 10-12 days, because the surface was too wet to plant without being able to harden.

“The two frost events we had at the end of May didn’t seem too severe,” said Torrey, “but within hours the damage started to show in fields scattered throughout Ontario. Most of the corn and soybean crops are at a stage in their life cycle which can withstand a mild frost, and they should regrow, but a good, soaking rain is definitely needed to do that. Tender vegetables left uncovered did not fair so well with the frost.”

Add to those difficulties the May drought. Hickson said the projected upcoming week of rain won’t solve everything. “The sad thing is, even if we get the rain they’re forecasting, if we get that in one hour, it doesn’t do us a whole lot of good. And that’s a problem we’ve had in the last five years. We either have drought or mud. There’s no happy between, it’s just two extremes.”

Something positive that happened in Hickson’s case, however, is “surprisingly, the crops have emerged quite evenly, quite well, in the drought conditions we’ve had.”

He points out there are livestock farmers trying to make hay, and right now they “have got no top growth on the pasture, no top growth on the hay they’re trying to cut…they’ve got good even stands and good-looking fields but there’s just no top growth on them for volume.”

As for Torrey, he says that after a month of dry hot weather, some rain has filled barrels and greened up the plants. “If there is a silver lining to the dry weather, crops were planted in record time this spring into excellent soil conditions. A couple inches of rain right now could set us up for an excellent season, but that is out of our hands.”

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