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Farmers at the ready, weather or not

Cottagers, outdoor enthusiasts and, perhaps most of all farmers, will all have their fingers crossed as August gets underway today, hoping that sunny days and warm temperatures – the hallmarks of a true summer – will finally arrive in Waterloo Region. After a long and harsh winter, the dog days of summer have been but a fantasy.

And if the weather prognosticators have it right, they might have to wait longer than this weekend.

 Keith Marcy, a Valens-area farmer selling at the Elmira Produce Auction, says the wet weather hasn’t worked wonders for his strawberry and raspberry crops. While the quality of his crops has been good, the cool weather has delayed their harvest, and the frequent rain has made it difficult to harvest raspberries.
Keith Marcy, a Valens-area farmer selling at the Elmira Produce Auction, says the wet weather hasn’t worked wonders for his strawberry and raspberry crops. While the quality of his crops has been good, the cool weather has delayed their harvest, and the frequent rain has made it difficult to harvest raspberries.

“It’s not looking good. Our current model, the one operating now from mid-July to mid August was showing in southern Ontario that it was going to be normal, even warmer than normal to normal and wetter than normal, and it certainly has been wet recently,” said Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, adding that the government agency will issue a new statement today (Saturday).

“The problem is that when I look at the preliminary stuff, it’s showing colder than normal and colder and wetter than normal, so this misery continues.

“It’s almost as if we can certainly write off July – there’s nothing left. I take a look at the Waterloo Region area … Saturday looks great but then it looks like more and more rain and cool weather, so this system, which is just hovering over us is just spoiling our summer. Normally, it hangs around for two weeks and then it goes away for six weeks. It’s a feature of our climate, but not like this. Not just day-in and day-out, week after week, month after month – this cold low is just spinning around and giving us nothing but Canadian air,” said Phillips, noting that  precipitation values are “all over the place.”

Already, Toronto and the Waterloo Region have been wetter than usual. Although this summer’s rainfall hasn’t set any actual records, cooler and wetter weather than is typical of July has prevailed. For the month of July, afternoon temperatures have been significantly cooler than normal: about three degrees colder than the average.

“(It’s) colder this year and wetter … 1992 is always considered the year we cancelled summer, well, boy, it’s going to come a close second to this one,” said Phillips.

All the cool and wet weather, of course, is having a significant effect on local agriculture – but it’s not all bad.

Yet.

“At this particular point in time there are very few crops that have been negatively impacted yet, so it’s all kind of conjecture,” explained Peter Johnson, a soil and crop specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

Different plants deal differently under specific types of weather, so while some are thriving, others are struggling under the wet and cold temperatures. Still others are experiencing mixed results.

“The winter wheat crop was initially negatively impacted over  the winter and the early spring with very tough conditions, but these cool conditions of late have actually had both a positive and a negative implication,” said Johnson.

On the positive side, wheat crops prefer cooler temperatures, which extend the grain fill period and consequently help boost the yield. That said, wheat doesn’t like the frequent rains showers that are resulting in higher levels of a disease called fusarium, which causes toxins in the grain, making it unfit for human consumption.

“We don’t know for sure whether it will be at high enough levels to cause a problem, but certainly it is something we are paying attention to,” said Johnson.

Hay crops are also reacting with mixed results to recent conditions. The cool, damp weather has meant that yields of second cut hay and even later first cut hay have been “very, very good.” But because of the frequent rains, it’s been virtually impossible to harvest that hay in good shape.

Farmers are also having trouble harvesting spring cereals.

“These frequent showers are really causing some havoc and all the crops are late. For the spring cereal crop, even though it looks excellent because of the cool temperatures, harvest is probably delayed by two weeks.”

Soybean crops are also late, and have suffered badly as a result of the cool temperatures and lack of normal root development.

The cold temperatures, wet weather, and cold nights in particular, are resulting in yellow beans and plants that are flowering later than expected. The late flowering translates into some lost yield potential but soybean growers could still have “a very good crop if we have a good August and early September,” he noted.

“We’re not out of the game yet, but every day that goes by where we continue with these conditions we get more and more under the gun for things to catch up, and that’s particularly true with regards to the corn crop.”

Fruits such as melons and cantaloupes, and even tomatoes, which need ample sun, are sitting on the plants, not maturing. Leafy crops such as lettuce and spinach, however, are doing well with the cool temperatures.

Strawberries came some two weeks late, and though the quality was good, some growers, including Valens’ Keith Marcy, saw their  strawberry yield down 20 per cent from previous years because of a late May frost.

The cool weather has been good for his raspberry crops, but the frequent rains have made it difficult to harvest the berries.

“We also have a pick-your-own business and when it is raining or looking like it’s going to rain, people don’t come,” said Marcy.

Conceding the obvious point that farmers cannot choose their own weather, Johnson noted that ideal weather for the months of August and September would include: temperatures of 30 degrees during the day, and 22 degrees at night; and roughly one inch of rain a week in a single rainfall (i.e. an overnight rain that delivers one inch of total precipitation). That said, all farmers can do is hope for good weather and deal with what comes.

“What happens will be what happens. That’s what we want, that’s what we need if we’re really going to come out of this crop year where we’d like to. [Plus] no frost before, at the very earliest, the 10th of October,” said Johnson.

Nelson Wideman, general manager of the Elmira Produce Auction agrees.

“I think it’s good that we can’t control the weather. We just take it as it comes, and normally we’ve been blessed with enough to eat, so, we might as well grin and carry on. We need sunshine and we need rain,” he said.

“We’re so prone to complain about the weather but really we should be thankful that we do have enough to eat.”

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