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Monday, September 16, 2019

Lack of rain taking a real toll on this year’s local field crops

Hot weather and sporadic precipitation that varies across the region have farmers scrambling

Crops in the region are a little more thirsty this summer, getting less rain than average, and baking in the blazing sun during long sunny stretches.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has been keeping a close eye on the situation, recently releasing an update on the status of crops in the province.

Ben Rosser is a corn specialist with OMAFRA and he says that corn is one of the crops that is looking for a bit of extra moisture. Farmers are having to look to alternate uses for this year’s corn crop in certain areas like Woolwich and Wellesley townships, and indeed throughout the Grand River watershed.

“For your area, it is the lack of rain and in some spots, the sandy soil which doesn’t have a high moisture holding capacity. In some cases, some growers are going out there, looking at their crop and saying, ‘some of these plants are really struggling. I am not expecting a lot of good grain,’” he said. “If you have livestock, or if you have a neighbour who has livestock, it is possible to resell the crop for feed, chopping the whole plant and taking everything instead of getting a lower than average grain yield.”

Sue Brocklebank, a conservation specialist with the Grand River Conservation Authority, notes some areas are faring better than others.

“There have been lots of localized rain events, and intermittent rain events, so it depends on where you are if your crop is stressed,” she said. “I was in Conestogo in July, and the area there has actually seen some good rain events, so they are doing fairly well, but down in Brant County, the crops are very stressed right now.”

According to the University of Waterloo weather station data, precipitation was below average in May, June and July and was present in short bursts and didn’t last longer than an hour, leaving little time for the water to absorb into the ground. In July, the region saw only 70.2 millimeters of rain. In an average year, the weather station expects 98.6 millimeters of precipitation.

Rosser says that it is late enough in the summer that some corn crops are out of luck, even if it were to start raining an average amount right away.

“It all depends on the plants. You go by some fields and the corn may only be waist-high, and on some of those sandy fields that have little to no moisture, you probably won’t have a lot of bounce back,” he said. “In fields where the crop has chugged along and done its thing, then we start getting some rain, chances are things will be alright. There has been some stress that has taken some yield off the table, for sure, but things aren’t a write-off by any means.”

To help farmers understand and deal with the lack of precipitation, Brocklebank and the GRCA are hosting an information night in Brant County on Aug. 18 called Coping with Drought: Preparing for the Future, and a day-long demonstration and information session in Elmira on Aug. 16.

“I think one of the big benefits is meeting up with your neighbour and being able to talk about what is going on in your fields. Everyone’s operation is a little bit different, but you can gain experience by talking to people who have been through a drought before or at least a similar experience,” she said.

In Brant County, OMAFRA scientists and researchers from the University of Guelph will be on hand to share the science side of things, and engage in conversation with local farmers.

In Elmira, at Floraview Farms from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., there will be soil demonstrations and information on how to keep crops going.

To read the OMAFRA Field Crop Report, visit www.fieldcropnews.com. For more information on the GRCA events, visit www.grandriver.ca.

Liz Bevan
Liz Bevanhttps://observerxtra.com
Liz Bevan is a reporter and photographer for The Observer. She has written for community newspapers in western Canada and has been published in national newspapers and magazines.

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