Rain soothes crops in a hot, dry summer; but too late for some

This golden field of wheat was photographed near South Mountain in very hot, dry conditions on Aug. 1, 2016. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

EASTERN ONTARIO — Today’s rain — and with more in the forecast for this weekend — spells some relief for area farmers looking to salvage a growing season in which they’ve watched anxiously as their crops weathered the hot, humid but mostly precipitation-free conditions of the last few weeks.

Mark Tibben of Tibben Farms in Brinston suggested the rain comes just a little too late to be of much benefit to his family’s crop of grain corn at this point. “In the last five weeks, this is the first rain we’ve received that would do any good,” said Tibben, estimating a quarter inch fell overnight Aug. 11-12 at the farm.

Unfortunately, the stressed corn plants ceased unfurling their leaves at night only two days earlier, indicating they were already “kind of past a critical phase” without getting water, he explained. “If you do go into the field now, the leaves are dead right up to the cob, and in some cases, above the cob.”

Harvest is still a ways off, but he expected corn yields in his neighbourhood to be about half of last year’s bumper crop, maybe 120 bushels per acre instead of the 240-260 bushels per acre seen in 2015. “It’s going to be a shock…. But it’s something we don’t have much control over.”

The last big rain in early July ensured excellent corn pollination — which would have otherwise led to full yield potential. But there was next to no moisture after that, he said, and the farm missed out on thunderstorms “floating around two miles north of here a couple of weeks ago.”

He also anticipates chopping up some of those grain corn fields to make additional silage for Tibben Farms’ dairy herd, as replacement for a shortage of hay. The first alfalfa cut yielded 80 percent of average, with the second and third cuts below half.

But he remained optimistic this weekend’s promised precipitation would still be of great benefit to the farm’s alfalfa and soybean crops, noting the soybeans did well when rain came in the last dry year of 2012. “But we’re in overall worse shape than in 2012.”

On the upside, he acknowledged that this season’s cereal crops were fantastic.

Gilles Quesnel, member of the Eastern Ontario Crop Advisory Committee, said the crop picture was not yet “catastrophic” in the region and that rain this weekend would help “kickstart” soybeans and corn.

“Sure, growers have lost yields. But if we were to get rain now, it’s amazing, it’s not going to be a write-off of a season in any sense,” he predicted.

Things would be worse, Quesnel suggested, if the corn and soybeans hadn’t been planted early and in the excellent conditions that prevailed this past spring. The plants got an early jump and the lack of soil compaction allowed them to make the most of available moisture and quickly develop roots.

In Eastern Ontario, there are some areas west of Kingston and around Peterborough that never got the critical rainfall for corn pollination and aren’t likely to yield corn in that case, he said.

The shortening days and cooling nights of late summer will also produce heavier dews that can also serve as a source of moisture for the maturing crops, according to Quesnel.

diagnostic day_web

Already dealing with the challenges of a dry season on July 28, farmers listen to a presenter during that day’s 18th annual Eastern Ontario Crop Diagnostic Day at the Winchester Research Station on Baker Rd., North Dundas. Staff from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs conducted the sessions. Courtesy photo


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