Pearce: Ont. farmers remain frustrated by wet fall

Wet weather, now accompanied by the first significant snowfall for much of southern and western Ontario, is creating a new level of angst for a large number of farmers.

Some soybean fields remain standing and the prospects of those fields seeing a winter wheat crop have likely disappeared with the turning of the calendar to November.

There’s a greater sense of optimism — at least where yields are concerned — for the pending corn harvest. All that’s needed now is a little dry weather.

According to seed dealers, extension personnel and agronomists, fall conditions have continued to deteriorate since the start of the season. In a region bounded roughly by north Huron-north Perth-north Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin counties, anecdotal estimates on rainfall have been around 14 inches of rain — and now snow — since the third week of September.

According to Weather INnovations of Chatham, Ont., the situation in some centres has been considerably worse. Bayfield, on the shore of Lake Huron, received 480 mm (nearly 19 inches) of rain between Sept. 1 and Nov. 11. Paisley, in central Bruce County, received 444.8 mm; the Outdoor Farm Show site near Woodstock, 373; Listowel, in north Perth, 349.6; and Drayton, in Wellington County, 337.4 (about 13.3 inches).

That precipitation hampered the soybean harvest and could affect germination or growth of those fields of winter wheat that were actually seeded. According to provincial estimates, Ontario farmers managed to get about 780,000 acres of winter wheat into the ground.

There will be questions of how those acres, especially in midwestern Ontario, fare during the winter months. Mervyn Erb, a certified crop adviser from Brucefield, north of London, spoke of many wheat fields he’s seen showing up in sections that are different colours than a healthy green: yellow, brown and even some purple colouring in the plants.

Spring’s arrival, he believes, could see as many as 200,000 acres of winter wheat burned-down or taken out, with most of those likely going to soybeans since spring wheat yields are relatively low, and prices for oats and barley have yet to show any real upside.

While many regions have seen their corn harvest progress stall, the general reaction is that there’s still some time to get it out of the fields — specially since fall tillage and plowing are unlikely to be options for those on heavier ground.

As for spring field management, it’s believed growers will be out in force plowing fields in an effort to break up the ruts and rills that have formed this fall.

As one advisor states, it’s not that farmers have brought this on themselves; with the precipitation totals across much of the southern portion of Ontario, the challenges for harvest and winter wheat planting have been far less than optimal, and only those farmers with intuitiveness or experience will deal with this appropriately.

— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont.

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