The age-old challenge of drought
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Jul 25, 2012  |  Vote 0    0

The age-old challenge of drought

Listowel Banner

Listowell Banner editorial

Talk in the farm supply stores in this region has shifted solidly to the drought conditions, with recent smatterings of rainshowers only affecting isolated areas, and mostly not enough even there to alleviate the excessively dry conditions.

The Agrilink news service out of the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown College reported a recent downpour of 54 millimetres near Listowel, but some surrounding areas — even within visual range of the town — received none at all.

Crops, like the lawns in town, are certainly showing the effects.

“Many (corn farmers) are still waiting to see if their crops will hold on through extremely dry conditions,” the Agrilink report states.

In the same article, Woodstock-area seed company agronomist Ken Currah said corn fields “are severely stressed for moisture . . . The last 10 days have really started to put the boots to the corn, making it hurt.”

The ramifications on the Ontario corn crop have yet to be determined, although a drought in the U.S. Corn Belt — which, by all reports, has advanced to a deeper stage than what we’re experiencing here — has caused some major downgrading in the yield projections, as well as warnings of major global price increases for both corn and fuel, due to the high level of corn-based ethanol used by the U.S. fuel sector. Ethanol production facilities in the midwest have also been shutting down, throwing people out of work.

But the effects of the southern Ontario drought are already being felt by many livestock producers, who rely on hay and/or pasture for feed for their cattle, sheep or other animals. Lawnmowers, after all, can sit idle if the grass isn’t growing, and their owners can bask in the savings on the cost of fuel. But cattle need to eat; and when the grass (or hay) isn’t growing, their owners are forced to look elsewhere for fodder.

Some farmers have taken a chance, given an uncharacteristically early wheat harvest (due to the very early spring and prolonged hot weather), to try for a second crop for 2012 on the fields from which the wheat was just harvested. Some livestock farmers are considering drought-tolerant feed crops like sorghum — hopefully to fill their feed bunks in the fall once their already meagre supplies of hay have run out.

Others will be faced with the prospect of buying in hay, most likely with the added expense of having it trucked from somewhere not affected by drought, and most likely at relatively inflated prices due to the scarcity of supply.

Year after year, farming presents a new crop of challenges and risks. This drought year of 2012 is, in that way, no different. But, somehow, given that everyone knows plants can’t grow without water, prolonged periods without rain seem to present one of the toughest challenges of all.

- Special to The Listowel Banner

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