With an early spring and a dry, hot summer so far, many farmers in South Dundas are seeing significant signs of stress on their crops.
On July 11th, Archie Mellan, a local corn and soy bean farmer who also happens to be a member of the South Dundas council, shared his thoughts and concerns on the current drought situation and its effect on local crops.
“Some areas are worse than others,” said Mellan. During the last rainfall, he explained, his area in Hulbert had about three tenths of an inch of rain while a friend five miles to the north didn’t get any rain at all and friends in South Mountain had three quarters of an inch of rain.
“The rain has been sporadic, some fields are hurt worse than others,” he continued. “North of us, crops are starting to wilt pretty bad.”
“Fields are starting to dry up and if we don’t get rain in the next week, it’s hard to say what damage is done.”
According to Mellan, “hay could be at a premium, which affects dairy farmers who usually get three to four cuts of hay.”
“In some areas,” he said, “the first cut came off early and the second cut was below normal. Now, with no rain, there’s no re-growth” for the third and fourth cuts.
“The States are in the same situation as us and it’s serious enough here, not critical, but getting there.”
“Prices are going up just because of the drought in the States. What happens there sets the market for Canada.” Unfortunately, what is happening, said Mellan, is that prices are up, but yields, due to the current drought situation, are probably going to be low if things don’t soon change.
“It’d be nice to get an all day, one to two inches of rain. The lawns are turning brown and going dormant, the same as hay.”
“Corn is starting to tassel and the drought conditions have put it under stress (at this) critical stage.”
“This is sort of a critical point, in the next week or two,” continued Mellan, explaining that the yield depends on the pollen produced by the tassel (male part), which then falls onto the silk (female part) of the ears, eventually producing the cob of corn.
“We’re sort of ahead of schedule because of the early spring. For germination, the forming of that cob, you want adequate moisture there.”
“It’s not a do or die situation there,” said Mellan, “but if it continues to get dry, it could damage its potential” yield.
“In the next week or two,” he continued, “we really do need rain to ease the anxiety. It’s wilting a little bit every day.”
“The soy beans are getting along, but you can definitely see the stress out there.”
“The later planted crops are showing a bit more stress because the roots are not set down deep enough yet. Roots can go down a long way to find moisture.” According to Mellan, some farmers planted their corn fields later than others.
Another factor affecting a crop is the type of soil it’s planted in. “There’s a lot of variance in South Dundas,” said Mellan. There’s ground that is mostly sand or gravel-like that doesn’t hold moisture well at all and then there’s “heavy ground” that holds moisture really well.
“There can be significant difference in soil in a relatively short distance,” he continued, in the distance of “a mile to a mile and a half, it can go from sandy to heavy clay. That will play a big part in this too.”
Mellan also pointed out that the ground on the outer sides of the fields is always driest as well as ground near trees and fence lines.
Without some sort of irrigation system in place, Mellan explained that there’s not much to be done when “Mother Nature doesn’t want to play nice. It can have dire consequences.”
“Most of the crops have a tendency to bounce back and withstand a certain amount of drought,” he said. But, “when lawns turn brown, magnify that out to the fields. Unfortunately, you might already have some yield loss.”
He said there are some farmers who are spreading “liquid manure onto fields hoping, maybe, that the moisture will help the plants get growing, but there’s no real substitute for rain.”
He also pointed out that, legally, “you can’t just irrigate out of rivers and cricks and there’s not really much you can do to substitute for water.”
While crop insurance does exist and while it is a “valuable tool, it helps, yes, but it sure isn’t an end all, be all,” said Mellan.
“Most farmers probably have it and it will cover your input cost, but you won’t make a lot of money. You’re farther ahead to harvest a good crop.”
If the drought doesn’t let up soon, Mellan said “it could have a very serious impact with severe financial implications.”
As for rain, he said, “we’ll take anything,” explaining that a hard, short rain is fine and “we’ll take that, but a lot of it runs off and doesn’t get a chance to soak into the ground.”
His recommendation to Mother Nature would be “a half inch, twice a week.”