Pearce: Ontario crop conditions a tale of two scenarios

A close-up of emerging corn seedlings north of London, Ont. on May 24, 2016. (Ralph Pearce photo)

When it comes to getting a handle on current crop conditions in Ontario, it really depends on who you ask.

Conditions and progress in the southern portion of the province vary — some considerably — compared to those in eastern Ontario, particularly where it comes to planting corn and soybeans. If there’s one common theme for both areas, it’s that most growers would like to see some rain in the coming week.

Across much of southern Ontario, the winter wheat crop is the outstanding story at this point of the season, with lush growth and a healthy overall grading from advisers, extension personnel and retailers. Based on figures from Agricorp, it’s estimated that growers managed to plant about one million acres of winter wheat in 2015 (800,000 acres insured, with an assumed 200,000 uninsured).

Of course, appearances can be deceiving with winter wheat; the “windshield survey” often hides problems deeper in the canopy, from phosphorus or sulphur deficiencies to drainage issues.

“But we’re really nitpicking and trying to find faults because the wheat crop does look terrific,” said Alan McCallum, an independent certified crop adviser from Iona Station, southwest of London. Most of the wheat he’s seen hasn’t grown too tall, he said, likely due to the cooler spring temperatures in the south thus far.

“In a lot of cases, it’s reaching the flag-leaf stage, and it’s a pretty good-looking crop — the disease pressure is pretty low.”

As for corn and soybean planting, the cool start to the spring has delayed that task so far this season.

“In my immediate area, there’s still a decent percentage of corn yet to be planted,” McCallum said. “The clay soils were still pretty tacky down at two and three inches, and there are pockets around the region that still have a ways to go on corn planting.”

A few soybean fields planted earlier in May were germinating following sufficient rains late during the week of May 9 and early the following week.

Eastern Ontario

In the east, the conditions are almost reversed. By the end of last week, corn planting was expected to be all but complete, with soybeans at roughly 70 to 75 per cent finished before the holiday weekend. It’s been a fast start, but some concerns that come with those ideal conditions, said Paul Hermans.

“The two-week forecast is dry, with hardly anything here,” said Hermans, DuPont Pioneer’s agronomist for eastern Ontario and the Maritimes. “My only concern right now is that conditions are so dry, and I hope the growers that did this last bit of planting got their seed into moisture.”

He’s also interested in watching earlier-planted fields for any signs of delayed emergence or damage caused by last week’s cold snaps across much of the province.

— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont. Follow him at @arpee_AG on Twitter.

ontario wheat
An El Nino weather pattern is underway and will last until winter, Japan said on Friday, foreshadowing disruptive conditions that could harm crops from Australia to India at a time of rising fears about global food supplies. Corn prices have surged more than 60 per cent in the past two months as the United States reels from the worst drought in more than 50 years, while global soy supplies are also tight after drought in South America. Data suggested the El Nino phenomenon had emerged, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, referring to conditions in the equatorial Pacific. "The chances are high that the El Nino phenomenon will be maintained until the winter," the agency said in a statement. The big unknown is how intense and how long the developing El Nino phenomenon will be. An intense El Nino can cause widespread drought in Australia, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and India, but also bring rains to other parts of the globe. While it can boost corn and soy crops in South America, wheat harvests can be devastated in Australia. Coffee, cocoa, rice and sugar output in Southeast Asia can also be hit. Officials said El Nino could kick in at the end of the Indian monsoon in September, hurting winter wheat, rapeseed and chickpea crops. Drier weather would be good for China's autumn grain growing period, mostly corn and soybean, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of the country's total grain output, a senior Chinese meteorological official said. Mild El Nino is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years. It is the opposite of the very closely related La Nina pattern, which often triggers floods in Australia and parts of Asia. Intense back-to-back La Nina episodes occurred during 2010-12. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), also warned Thursday that an El Nino was almost certain to occur over the next two months. The last severe El Nino in 1998 caused drought in Australia and Southeast Asia, withering crops and triggering forest fires. El Nino can also bring warmer, wetter winters in Japan and parts of North America, but any rains might be too late for the parched U.S. corn crop. Concepcion Calpe, senior economist at the FAO, said she expected a mild El Nino to develop but it could bring "some bad weather which could jeopardize crops in the coming months. "We expect more rain in the United States in the coming months, but it will be too late for the maize crop. It is impossible now (for it) to recover," Calpe said. "But there is still time for the rains to boost soy yields. We are looking forward to having rain in August and September, that would be great for the soya crop." Indonesia's weather bureau said on Friday any El Nino would have limited impact on the country. "A weak El Nino will reduce rainfall in eastern and central Indonesia, but not significantly," weather bureau head Sri Woro B. Harijono told reporters. But in India, one of the world's largest food producers and consumers, with a population of 1.2 billion, El Nino will likely mean a drop in rainfall from September after an erratic monsoon. Lower than average rains have threatened cereal and lentils production, although rainfall has picked up in the past week. El Nino typically causes drier weather over much of the country during the northern hemisphere summer, forecasters say. "El Nino is likely to reduce rainfall during the last month of the monsoon season," said D.S. Pai, lead forecaster of the Indian weather office, referring to September. That could cut winter crop production. Three years ago, an El Nino slowed monsoon rains, sparking a rally in sugar prices to 30-year highs as India, the world's second biggest producer, harvested a poor cane crop. "Beneficial" In China, little impact was expected. "The influence of El Nino on Chinese crops will help postpone frost in northern China at the later part of the autumn months, which will be beneficial for crops," said Tu Xuan, an analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. Ltd. Elsewhere, the phenomenon raises the chances of favourable planting conditions in South America for corn and soy. "There may be areas that are adversely affected, but no two El Nino are the same. It is certainly a risk but it doesn't mean that we are going to have a disaster," said Luke Mathews, a commodities strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. He said the bank was expecting good crops in South America over the next six months and there was enough soil moisture in eastern Australian cropping zones to buffer against a drought. El Nino also generally leads to a decrease in storms in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, potentially good news for the oil industry whose installations are vulnerable to hurricanes. The U.S. government forecaster said on Thursday El Nino would bring near-normal to above-normal storm activity. The hurricane season runs to Nov. 30. El Nino means "little boy" in Spanish and was first used by anchovy fishermen in Ecuador and Peru in the 19th century to refer to the arrival of unusually warm ocean waters around Christmas. -- Risa Maeda reports for Reuters from Tokyo. Additional reporting for Reuters by Naveen Thukral in Singapore, Ratnajyoti Dutta in New Delhi, Tracy Zheng and Sabrina Mao in Beijing, Yayat Supriatna in Jakarta and Catherine Hornby in Rome.

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