BY ANDREW SMITH
NORTH PERTH – Area farmers have been feeling the heat this summer, with a significant lack of rain causing some potential yield losses.
Del Cressman, a Listowel-area farmer with about 5,000 acres of wheat, corn, soy beans and edible beans, said he began noticing dryness in his fields late last week, and said he’s most concerned about how the lack of rain will affect the corn crop.
“I think the wheat will survive the dryness okay,” Cressman said. “The corn, if we don’t get rain in the next two weeks it’s going to be brutal.”
Cressman is just one of many farmers across southern Ontario facing the same drought. According to Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, there has been less than half the normal precipitation from April to July. At the same time, there have been more days around or hotter than 30 degrees.
“It’s been very warm, it’s been very dry, and it really continues,” he said. “I’m sure farmers are unhappy.”
Phillips said we’ve been seeing temperatures about six degrees higher than normal, and any chance of rain in the immediate forecast is spotty at best, such as the 30 per cent chance of showers that rolled through the area on Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t even carry an umbrella for 30 per cent,” he said. “We’re downplaying any precipitation, we don’t want to raise hopes if they’re not there.”
Bill Holzworth of Palmerston was one of the lucky ones that caught some of Sunday’s rain, giving his crops a much-needed watering. Others weren’t so fortunate, highlighting the unevenness of the rain.
“The other side of Palmerston didn’t get a drop,” Holzworth said. “I hope everybody gets some rain, we’re really lucky we got it.”
Farmers are seeing a flip-side of the season they experienced last year, as an early spring gave this year’s crops a head start.
“Last year was just the complete opposite, because last year the crops were way behind, the maturity was way behind because it was a late spring,” Cressman said. “This year is the exact opposite, everything is so early.”
And with the corn crop going into pollination early, Holzworth said the lack of rain is critical at this point.
“There’s a lot of good corn around, but it sure needs a drink,” Holzworth said.
Cressman said a continued lack of rain could result in yield losses as high as 30-50 per cent, crediting an early start to the crop for some relief. Although the situation isn’t desirable, Cressman said there’s still hope left for the majority of the crops to make a turnaround with some rain.
“Right now, we’re pretty hopeful yet, but the weather forecast sure don’t make you look too hopeful,” he said. “Everybody’s looking for a doom and gloom story and we’re not quite there yet.”
Phillips said this year as a whole has been warmer than normal with less precipitation, but doesn’t feel it’s setting a trend for summers to come.
“It’s not suggesting that this year and every year from now on will be warm and dry,” he said. “I think farmers are probably more concerned about what’s over the horizon than what’s going to happen in the next 30 years.”
What Phillips expects is more variable and wild weather, which makes the growing season far less predictable for farmers. Precipitation forecasts are even harder to nail down, Phillips said, and he’s seen instances where an area received a month’s worth of rain in three days and other seasons where the perfect amount of rain fell as if on schedule.
“You almost felt that somebody was listening to you up there and gave you the moisture and then turned the faucet off,” Philips said. “This year, no prayers are being answered.”