Worst year ever? Farmers finally planting in southwestern Ontario

Farmers across southwestern Ontario are racing to their fields in hopes they’re dry enough to finally plant much-delayed crops, but this year’s wet spring has already done considerable damage to expected yields in the fall.

“I have never seen this,” said Phillip Shaw, an agricultural economist who has been farming in Dresden, Ont. for over four decades.

According to Shaw, 2019 was the worst spring he’s ever experienced.

Shaw said most farmers would have planted corn and soybeans months ago if conditions were ideal. Now he says they’re spending the final days of June racing to get seeds in the ground.

“It’s been incredibly difficult to plant anything, especially in Essex County,” said Shaw, who is personally three months behind in his planting.

Delays are costly, according to Shaw, who estimated that each acre of soybeans planted in Ontario this week has lost $230 in expected yield because of the wet weather.

“It’s a substantial economic hit to southwestern Ontario.”

Soggy spring forces farmer to switch crops

In Essex County, Paul Welker had plans to grow corn in at least one of his fields. However, the constant downpour forced him to switch to soybeans, creating a domino effect that may set back his entire year.

“It’s too late to plant corn, it won’t mature before killing frost,” said Welker, whose plans to plant wheat in the fall are in jeopardy because of a projected late bean harvest.

But even as the sun pops out to dry up muddy fields, Welker knows a sudden downpour can put all of his plans in the trash.

“Our days are getting numbered now. If we get one more rain, [it] puts us out another four or five days. It puts us out too late,” said Welker.

Despite the pressure-filled year, Welker finds farming a rewarding way to live a life in southwestern Ontario.

“It’s a tough road to get there, but if you make it down the road it’s a pretty good feeling.”

Low percentage of Essex County crops planted

“It’s been a very trying spring to say the least,” said Brendan Byrne, who farms in Essex and is the vice-chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

It’s not just the weather they’re facing, but also a July 5 deadline for crop insurance on soybeans in the southwest — extended from the usual end of June cutoff.

Byrne marks Tuesday as the second good planting day for Essex County in 2019, because of this year’s wet and cold weather.

He estimates that 15 per cent of crops were planted when the crop insurance deadline was pushed back to July 5.

“Last year, we got started late which was May 28,” said Byrne, who added that he needs “really cooperative” weather to secure an average yield this year.

People driving through Essex County will likely notice fields full of weeds that farmers haven’t been able to prepare for planting because of soggy conditions.

“If it does get wet again, there is an insurance benefit that guys have paid into that if you’re unable to seed a crop due to weather, there is a benefit that they can work on as well,” said Byrne, adding the best thing is to get crops in the ground.

A chance at a decent yield

Lyle Hall, head of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture, finally made it out to his field in Cottam on Tuesday to search for dry spots to plant soybeans — four weeks behind schedule.

“Yes, we’re going to lose some yield now,” said Hall, who said farmers will need to hope for a warmer fall to get a decent crop out of what they’re planting now.

Both Hall and Byrne said 2015 produced similar weather, with a delayed July deadline for crop insurance.

“We ended up with a decent yield, thank goodness for that year. Maybe we’ll have the same thing again,” said Hall.

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