by SUSAN MANN
Hot temperatures in May and June have exacerbated the abnormally dry conditions across some parts of Ontario, says an Environment Canada senior climatologist.
“We’re seeing as many hot days in May and June as we normally had all of last summer,” noted Dave Phillips. “Typically you’d get those hot days in July, August and early September.
You get a hot day and it’s going to suck every bead of water out of the ground,” he added. A lack of high humidity is contributing to the bone dryness of some parts of the province. “It’s like desert air. The air can absorb more moisture when it does evaporate.”
Phillips noted there haven’t been any high temperature records set. However, there have been a large number of hot days.
There were 11 days above 30 C in the Toronto area in May and June, whereas normally there would only be four. In Ottawa, there were 11 days that soared above 30 C during those two months, and normally there would be three to four.
In Hamilton, the average number of days above 30 C is around three to five, and they’ve had 11 really hot days for May and June, he said. London had six days above 30 C and typically would only have two to three by this time.
As for rainfall, Phillips said many parts of the province have been very dry. For example, the Ottawa area has only received 51 per cent of its normal rainfall amount for May and June. That’s similar to the London area. Around Hamilton it’s closer to 40 per cent.
The Vineland and Niagara Falls area has only received 30 to 35 per cent of its normal rainfall totals for May and June.
“We’re really dealing with very little precipitation, down below normal,” Phillips says. However, he hesitates to call Ontario’s current weather conditions a drought, “which is in the eyes of the beholder.”
In contrast, some parts of Ontario had three-and-a-half times as much rain in May and June last year compared to this year.
“Last year, it was all about too much rain; this year it’s all about too little rain,” he said.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Drought Monitor map shows some pockets of the province as abnormally dry, while a section from Toronto to Eastern Ontario along Lake Ontario is listed as moderate drought.
Environment Canada’s long range forecast shows clear skies for most of Ontario through to Wednesday with temperatures remaining high but not climbing above 30 C.
The lack of moisture across some parts of Ontario was also on the mind of Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal. As he participated in a telephone interview earlier this week about a farm leaders’ meeting held Tuesday, the minister said “I just wish we could get some rain out there.”
For crops, the lack of rain is having varying impacts. Most of the province’s apple-growing regions are dry, said Ontario Apple Growers chair Charles Stevens.
“I’ve never seen it this dry at this time of year,” he noted.
The most significant stress is on newly planted trees because the roots aren’t deeply embedded in the ground yet. For trees planted in light soils, there is some loss of production on the bigger apple trees.
“The apples aren’t growing as fast as they should,” he said.
However, “if you’re on good ground, there’s probably no stress at this time.” So far, the apple crop mainly looks good and is good quality.
If the dry weather persists into the next month, the size of the apple crop will shrink, he added.
Horst Bohner, Ontario agriculture ministry soybean specialist, said soybeans are quite resilient. “We don’t really get concerned about dry conditions until we get into full flower or early pod set.” That will occur in about 10 to 14 days.
“In a lot of our counties, soybeans are actually in pretty good shape” he said. “They’re finally actually filling the canopy.”
During the past seven to 10 days, however growth has slowed indicating, “we’re starting to run out of moisture,” Bohner said.
There is concern about soybeans in some areas, such as the Niagara Region and other regions, where farmers weren’t able to establish a good plant stand due to extreme dryness. There wasn’t enough moisture for good germination and plant emergence.
There are spotty fields across Ontario where the plant stand is quite thin. That condition isn’t prevalent across the entire province.
Co-op Regionale sales agronomist Terry Phillips, a certified crop adviser in Northern Ontario, said the Temiskaming area is “drier that we would like but we’re not as critical as Eastern Ontario.”
In contrast to the dryness, some parts of the north are getting lots of rain. Phillips said the Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Thunder Bay areas “just got inundated again yesterday (Wednesday). They had five inches on the weekend (June 25-26) so they’re floating.”
The dryness around Temiskaming is impacting canola because it slows the plants’ development and “insects get at it,” he said. “Canola would be the one crop that likes more moisture. Everything else looks pretty good.”
Alfalfa-based forages can withstand dry conditions better than canola and most farmers in Phillips’ area “were pretty happy with their first cut.”
Paul Sullivan, certified crop adviser and agronomist with P.T. Sullivan Agro located near Ottawa, said most areas around him “have had quite a bit less rain than typically is normal.”
Isolated rainfall is hitting some parts of the region but not others. The lower Ottawa Valley along the St. Lawrence River and near Quebec got some rain this week and other parts of the region, such as Renfrew County, have stayed dry. Some of the drier areas are: Renfrew and Lanark counties and parts of Ottawa-Carleton Region.
For crop impacts, corn isn’t at a critical stage, which is two weeks before and after tasseling. However, dry weather stress is affecting corn on light and heavy soils.
Stephanie Charest, Agricorp spokesperson, said most of damage reports they’re receiving currently are for soybeans.
“What we’re seeing is poor soybean plant stands. A smaller portion of the plant is coming up through the soil than we normally see at this stage,” she noted. “We’re monitoring the situation closely as things can always change with the weather.”
Agricorp has received less than 1,400 damage reports so far, she said. That’s less than 10 per cent of the Crown corporation’s production insurance customers and is a regular amount of damage reports for this time of year.
Agricorp is working with the farmers on a case-by-case basis, depending on their individual situation.
Damage reports don’t necessarily end up as claims. “Farmers could file a damage report if they suspect damage but in many cases the crops rebound and they’re able to harvest a good crop,” Charest explained.
Agricorp will have a better idea of crop conditions as the growing season progresses, she said. BF