Grimsby Lincoln News Jul 04, 2016
By Amanda Moore
NIAGARA — With no end in sight to the dry, hot weather, farmers across the region are bracing themselves.
The situation is similar across the province, with Niagara, Haldimand and Eastern Ontario being the hardest hit, reads an online report from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs posted last week.
Agricorp, which provides risk management solutions for Ontario’s agri-food industry, has so far received 1,400 calls regarding damaged crops — 1,000 of which have been for poor soybean stands. About half of those calls were for dry soil conditions, with the remaining being for the opposite — extreme wet conditions in the Essex, Chatham, Kent area.
According to OMAFRA, only 20 per cent of soybean stands in Niagara and Haldimand have an acceptable plant stand due to the dry conditions.
Horst Bohner, soybean specialist for OMAFRA, said the lack of rain in much of Ontario puts this year’s soybean crop at risk. But it’s not all bad news. In Perth, where he is located, the soybean crop is fairing well, with most plants starting to flower. He said sporadic rainfall has kept the crop healthy there.
“That’s not the case for a lot of the Niagara region and Haldimand,” said Bohner. “It’s getting very late to try and get beans established now. There is significant acreage there with very poor plant stand which is a major concern at this stage.”
Typically, soybeans will begin the flowering stage this week but with many plants not having been established, Bohner said farmers are starting to get nervous. He said significant rainfall needs to happen, and soon.
“In a lot of fields, if we don’t get significant rain in the next 10 days, the likelihood of a good recovery is small,” he said, noting some fields in Niagara managed to catch a few showers and show potential for a good yield.
According to Environment Canada, the Hamilton area has received less than half the normal amount of rainfall this spring. In an average year, 165 millimetres of rain falls between May and June, this year there has been only 78 mm.
Bohner said Niagara’s corn crop faces a similar threat but there is more time for that crop to establish itself. However, if there is not significant rain by mid July, the chance of a good corn crop significantly lessens.
Four years ago, farmers faced a similar situation when dry weather early in the season threatened much of the soy and corn crop. Showers towards the end of July helped turn it around. That year was much better than 2001 when Mother Nature did not co-operate and the soybean crop was quite low across the province, said Bohner.
While the situation is not as dire for the many tender fruit growers in the region, growers of cherries, peaches, plums, apricots and other tender fruits are all hoping for some rain. Farmers have been irrigating around the clock to ensure their trees get enough water.
“We are irrigating a lot,” said Sarah Marshall, manager of the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers in Vineland. “Growers have been constantly irrigating over the past several weeks. We are definitely in a water deficit.
“We need some rain is what it boils down to.”
Marshall said through her discussions with OMAFRA, she learned this year’s precipitation levels for May and June are about 40 per cent of what they should be. She said that combined with a dry fall and winter have created a less than ideal situation for fruit growers.
However there is one benefit to a dry growing season.
“Dry weather does mean sweeter fruit generally,” she said, noting it also affects size. “We are at the stage now where fruit needs to pick up size. We are coming into harvest in three to four weeks and it could mean yield reduction, though we won’t know by how much until the end of the growing season.”
Cherries, which are just starting to make their way onto market stands and farmers’ market, are smaller than average but sweet, she said. One benefit to the lack of rain at this point in cherry season is minimal cracking in the skins of the fruit which is caused by rainfall during harvest.
The dry weather has certainly made fruit farming a more labour intensive process this year, Marshall said.
A dry season is easier to manage for the many grape growers in the area, but a balance of good moisture is key. Matthias Oppenlaender, chairman of the Grape Growers of Ontario, said he and fellow growers in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region are faring the lack of a storm due to access to water for irrigating. But many growers in Niagara aren’t so lucky and are holding out hope for rain. Just like with soybeans, grape growers need a good-sized drink for their crops in the next 10 days.
“If we don’t get any rain in July, it will be concerning for growers who cannot irrigate,” said Oppenlaender. “It’s a little too early for this. In August, we don’t mind if it slows down but we need rain in the 10 days. An inch or inch-and-a-half and then dry again would be perfect.”
Source: Hot, dry heat