The dry summer weather has farmers in the region worried. It’s been hot, windy, and without enough rain for healthy crops. Compared to the wet summer of 2017, the summer of 2018 has so far been quite the opposite. Environment Canada maintains weather monitoring stations in Moose Creek and St-Albert. The Moose Creek station recorded 68.6 millimetres/2.7 inches of precipitation for the entire month of June. Precipitation data for that station is not available for June 2017, but the St-Albert station recorded 108.4 millimetres/4.3 inches during June of last year. The South Nation Conservation Authority has issued a Level 1 low water condition based on Environment Canada data showing precipitation over the past three months in the region as 60 to 76 per cent below normal.
“It’s extremely dry right now,” said Réjean Pommainville, a cash-crop farmer from Limoges who also represents Prescott, Russell, Glengarry, and Stormont counties on the board of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). He said the first cut of hay at the end of June was good and he recently completed a second cut. He said that without rain, it will be difficult to get a third cut.
“We need a good soak,” Pommainville said, noting conditions have been warm and windy, which make things worse for crops, and that hot weather causes stress on livestock too. Indeed, many of the animals on display at the Lachute Fair on the weekend of July 13 to 15 looked quite content to lay down and rest. Cattle and pigs were moving minimally. Adequate ventilation for fowl is always important in hot weather, and large fans were keeping the air moving in the poultry barn.
“The temperature is changing,” said Pommainville, who mentioned climate change as a factor, and pointed out the extremes we are seeing in temperature and precipitation and compared the dry conditions this summer to the very wet and cooler conditions in 2017.
“Exceptionally dry,” is how Gary Bradley, a beef farmer from Casselman, described current field conditions while he and his family were getting one of their Herefords ready to show at the Lachute Fair. The Union des cultivateurs franco-ontariens (UCFO) is based in Alfred and represents francophone farmers from the local region and across Ontario.
“The corn is very, very dry,” said spokesperson Geneviève Souligny. She said most farmers had a good first cut of hay, but some were even struggling to get a good second cut due to the lack of rain.
Cash croppers are especially vulnerable during prolonged dry conditions. Entire crops can be lost if there isn’t enough natural precipitation and it’s usually too expensive to irrigate crops like corn and soybeans, so they’re “at the mercy of Mother Nature” said Pommainville, who added that economic conditions already make things difficult for cash crop producers. He noted that corn and soybean prices are down right now, and fuel costs are going up. Pommainville said it’s difficult to achieve the right economies of scale and for a farmer to start out in cash cropping from scratch, it is very difficult because of the economic and weather challenges. There could be some good news on the weather front for farmers though, long range forecasts show cooler temperatures and a higher chance of rain in the region during the first two weeks of August.