Dry weather hampering local corn production

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: July 24, 2012 | [ WEB ]

WATERLOO REGION — Dusty bone-dry soil is spelling disaster for some local corn farmers.

Driving through his Cambridge farm on what has been one of many hot July days, Brian Gillespie said he estimates that 60 per cent of the now browning field corn will be ruined.

“Each day that it doesn’t rain, (the dryness) just creeps through the field,” he said.

Gillespie explained that while he doesn’t rely on the field corn, a farmer that rents part of his property for dairy cows needed that corn for feed and will now have to find a new supplier.

For the sweet corn and other vegetable crop he relies on more heavily for public sale, Gillespie installed irrigation systems across his farm in 1998 which saved that corn this summer — but at a price.

The cost in diesel fuel alone to run the irrigation system amounts to about $120 each night, which Gillespie is using every five to six days in these dry conditions.

He added that for some crops — particularly peas, and green and yellow beans — irrigation has still not been enough to produce a plentiful yield.

“I just can’t seem to get enough water on them. I’ve never seen them like this,” he said

While customers at the Gillespie’s Gardens shop can still expect to find sweet corn this year, the damaged field corn will be affecting other industries.

Bob Gordanier, vice president of the Ontario Cattleman’s Association, said it’s uncertain how livestock farmers will manage a shortage of field corn from farmers in Ontario and the United States.

“We don’t even have the feed to buy, let alone the dollars to buy it,” he said.

The dry conditions have already damaged pastures and resulted in a decrease in hay production, causing farmers to worry how they will be able to maintain cattle into the fall.

Many farmers, Gordanier said, have begun selling cattle that typically wouldn’t be sold until the fall because they don’t have the feed to support the animals.

“The cost of production, in other words the price of corn, barley, hay, the whole works, is going up in price and that’s what cattle eat. So I’d have to suspect that the cattle prices will have to go up as well,” he said.

However, Gordanier added that it is still too early to guess what the long-term effects will be for consumers or farmers.

For the majority of Ontario’s corn crop, it may also be too early to assess the damage right now according to Greg Stewart, corn industry program lead for the Ministry of Agriculture.

Only 20 per cent of the province’s corn failed to survive pollination, according to Stewart, which means that the remaining crop could grow to maturity if enough rain comes.

“Those who had successful pollination will continue to look skyward to get some rain,” Stewart said.

For the next one to two weeks, rain will be critical for farmers whose corn crop has resisted the drought this far, according to Stewart.

And that much-needed rainfall may be on its way for farmers around Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.

Environment Canada forecasted rain Wednesday evening, Thursday and Saturday for the region.

However, due to the amount of irrigation this summer has required and the pressure it puts on water resources, Gillespie is reconsidering the length of his sweet corn season.

“We’re actually thinking about cutting back next year because we’re using too much water. This is just insane,” he said.

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Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.