by SUSAN MANN
The National Farmers Union in Ontario wants Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin to start working on disaster relief for livestock producers running short of feed and growers facing the loss of their field crops.
In a July 16 letter to McMeekin, NFU-Ontario coordinator Ann Slater says dried up pastures are forcing farmers to start feeding hay that was to be stored for winter. She predicts there will be a severe shortage of hay to feed during the winter and little or no hay will be available to buy.
Even now, any that’s available is really expensive. Ontario Cattlemen’s Association president Dan Darling says they’ve heard hay is costing more than $100 for one round bale. Typically a round bale is $30 to $40.
Darling described the situation on pastureland and hay ground as “pretty serious.”
“The grass is burning off,” he says, noting the hay in many areas of the province was only about two-thirds of the regular crop size due to lack of winter snow to provide moisture. Lack of rain hurt the first cut while the second cut “doesn’t even seem to be there.”
Significant rains coming now would mean farmers might not be too badly off. Nevertheless, now is the time for Ontario Cattlemen’s to talk to the minister and other farm organizations “that there may be a situation that we need some help drought-wise,” he says.
How dry has it been across Ontario? Ian Nichols, president of Chatham-based Weather INnovations Incorporated, says the entire area stretching from Windsor to Ottawa and up to Sudbury has been short of rain. Most of the area has received 60 to 80 per cent of average rainfall. In a portion of the Niagara area there has only been 40 to 60 per cent of normal rainfall since April 1.
Weather INnovations Incorporated does environmental monitoring, analysis and modeling for the agricultural industry.
“Everybody has been dry and that’s extremely unusual,” Nichols says. “Usually somewhere in the province they’ve had at least normal rain or slightly above.”
Slater says many farmers say they haven’t had any significant rain since the first couple days of June. Renfrew County NFU members say it’s the driest there since 1965 and maybe even longer. Darling says in the Temiskaming area the cracks are so deep in the soil someone can put their arm in up to the elbow. Prince Edward County and the Grey-Bruce region are also pretty dry.
Greg Stewart, agriculture ministry corn specialist, estimates 10 to 20 per cent of the corn crop has been irreversibly hurt by the dry weather, while another 10 to 20 per cent has been receiving good rainfall mainly in the area southwest of London. Yields there could be above the provincial average of 150 bushels per acre. The remainder flirts with average yields but needs a “just in time rain” to hang on to that.
Erin Fletcher, spokesperson for Grain Farmers of Ontario acknowledges there are challenges for farmers facing drought but says it’s too early to say if the situation is a disaster.
Disaster relief can only be triggered when it’s determined crop insurance and other risk management programs are inadequate to cover the true scope of the disaster. “That can’t be determined until the end of the growing season,” she says, explaining that crop insurance works by assessing yields after harvest.
The number of damage reports filed with Agricorp as of June 30 is 3,033. That’s a drop of nearly 42 per cent compared to the same time last year. Of this year’s June 30 damage reports, 482 were lack of rain, 1,093 were excess rain, and the rest were other perils.
Agricorp communications consultant Courtney Reistetter says during the past week there has been an increase in calls due to the lack of rain.
McMeekin says the ministry is monitoring the situation as well as consulting with its staff, farmers and farm leaders.
“Farmers can rest assured we will do anything and everything we can do and that we need to do to make sure they do as well as we like to see them do,” he says. But the ministry isn’t rushing to a judgment. Some areas are worse hit than others and “we’re aware of those.”
McMeekin says it’s likely he’ll go out and tour some of the province’s drought stricken areas.
The provincial agriculture ministry has already asked the federal government to initiate a formal process under the AgriRecovery framework for apples and tender fruit damaged by frost this spring. In a July 12 email, Mark Cripps, McMeekin’s press secretary, says it’s a 45-day process.
AgriRecovery is part of the business risk management program package in Growing Forward that enables federal, provincial and territorial governments to jointly respond case-by-case to specific disasters, such as disease and weather, with quick, targeted assistance. Costs are split with the federal government picking up 60 per cent and an affected province or territory paying 40 per cent. The objective is to reduce the impact of business risk faced by Canadian producers by assisting those affected by a disaster. BF