by JIM ALGIE
A spooky Halloween weather alert from Environment Canada about the potential first snow accumulation this season highlights harsh harvest conditions throughout the past two months in parts of Ontario.
Repeated periods of rain with occasional cold spells since early September have complicated harvest, particularly in elevated lands in Grey and Bruce counties adjacent to Lake Huron. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data on the Lake Huron watershed shows precipitation for September 13 per cent above the 100-year average.
Crops appear to have emerged in surprisingly good condition following these unusually cool, wet growing conditions. It’s been hard for farmers to get at them, however, a quick survey of area growers suggests.
Veteran Owen Sound farmer Sam Luckhardt awoke Saturday to “a good inch” of snow in his yard and Grey County plows on nearby roads. Unusually heavy September rainfall has Luckardt and other area growers as much as two-and-a-half weeks behind normal work schedules for this time of year.
Field conditions remain wet and muddy. Crops remain wetter than desirable for harvest. Imminent snow further complicates planning. Delayed soybean harvest in the area has already cut expected winter wheat plantings that often follow beans in common crop rotations.
“With beans, the intention quite often is to get your winter wheat in right after the beans and it looks like that’s probably been abandoned I’d say by now,” Bruce County Federation of Agriculture President Pat Jilessen said in an interview from his Paisley-area farm.
“It’s impossible to get snow through a combine,” Jilessen said. “It just plugs everything up. It’ll go into the sieves and melt a bit and freeze. It’s an absolute mess.”
Ontario’s corn crop appears to have come through so far in reasonably good shape an online Oct. 29 Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs report says. The annual survey by provincial corn specialist Greg Stewart and plant pathologist Albert Tenuta samples crop from across the province. They found surprisingly low levels of mould infection and mould-related toxins. Only nine per cent of samples showed contamination at levels greater than two per cent per million.
This year’s levels are higher than those in a similar survey last year but typical for the province. And they’re much lower than 2011 levels when more than 25 per cent of samples showed significant contamination, Tenuta said in an interview.
“Actually, we’re quite surprised based on the environmental season that we’ve had,” Tenuta said of this year’s results. “A lot of growers were concerned with the wet conditions this year that we would see considerably higher levels of ear rot, ear moulds as well as the resulting mycotoxins such as DON,” Tenuta said. The term, DON – or vomitoxin – refers to deoxynivalenol, a toxin associated with the common, soil fungus, fusarium. The presence of DON causes feed rejection and illness in susceptible livestock, notably hogs.
“We’ve not seen that,” Tenuta said of this year’s mould comparisons. Many areas of identified mould damage this year followed insect activity, particularly damage caused by bean cut worms.
Weather data collected at the Luckhardt home farm east of Owen Sound shows unremarkable October rainfall but three times September precipitation for 2013. By Halloween, Luckhardt had completed half his bean harvest with about 200 acres remaining.
“Because there aren’t many bean acres off, of course, fall wheat planting is way down too,” Luckhardt said. “We usually plant about 150 acres; we have 45 (acres) in and it’s actually pretty well too late to plant even if you get the beans off,” he said of vanishing plans for winter wheat.
Most silage corn is in; but grain corn remains, much of it too wet for storage. Corn will stand but Luckhardt and others fear for remaining soybeans.
“A lot of the beans have been lodged this year,” Meaford area dairyman and cash cropper Jon Wiley said in an interview. “If we got a foot of snow, or whatever, it may just flatten that crop,” said Wiley who is also current president of the Grey County Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
Canola came off in superb condition in late August and this year’s wheat harvest happened without hitches. Since the start of September, however, harvest has bogged down in wet, muddy field conditions.
Grey and Bruce County pastures will enter winter in excellent shape; but forage crops have faced harvest challenges because of the lack of drying weather, Ontario Forage Council manager Ray Robertson said in an interview, Friday.
“Lots more hay was wrapped this year,” Robertson said from his office in Markdale. “There’s lot of hay around but not a lot of good hay,” he said, citing wet harvest conditions throughout the year. As a result, Robertson also predicted higher prices ahead for quality hay.
“This snow will melt,” Luckhardt said of recent accumulations in his yard and on his crops. “But if we get too much snow it breaks over the bean plants . . . we’re half done; but there’ll be no harvesting of corn or beans ‘til the snow goes away,” he said.
Current conditions carry reminders for Luckhardt of the 1992 growing season when “the majority of the corn” ended up in a crop insurance claim.
“I remember that year quite well, an overcast fall and damp,” he said. “We’ve got to have some sunlight to help dry this stuff up and it also helps everybody feel better,” Luckhardt said. BF