Local consumer choice is far from the only casualty when it comes to the reality of losing some of Waterloo Region’s local farm products this summer. According to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) the province is already short 85 per cent of its average apple crop due to spring weather changes. Now the prospect of drought might drastically turn around what at first, looked like a productively warm season for cash crop and produce farmers.
As a slew of dry days rear their heads, this summer is turning into a fiercely stressful time in the local farming industry.
Producers say they are experiencing one of the hottest, long-term dry periods in their memory. The previous year’s adequate snowfall and hefty rain season created ideal growing conditions in warm weather, filling up ponds and creating perfect moisture conditions. According to local grower James Herrle, this year’s climate conditions are deteriorating the longer rains hold off.
“The ponds started the season probably only three quarters full. Right now we are experiencing ponds that are a lot lower than we’d like, we’re not sure there is enough water to carry us through until the end of the season. We’ve had to irrigate just to get crops to germinate. This year’s crops are desperately dry,” he explained.
At Herrle’s Country Farm Market, the mark of dry weather can be seen at the edges of cornfields where the outer stalks are visibly dwarfed in comparison to those farther afield, curling inwards, away from the sun.
According to OFA the summer’s beginnings promised something completely different from current weather conditions. Warm soil temperatures and early planting conditions were a hopeful sign for a while, but as rain remains absent, water is becoming a scarce commodity. Farmers are starting to ration their reserves, abandoning some fields when there is not enough water to go around, making sure their most valuable crops survive.
Certainly, smaller local producers depending on summer market sales for the majority of their income may feel the brunt of the water shortage and are trying to compensate. Produce farmer Mary Milanovich’s Drayton fruit farm has not experienced such harsh summer climates before, and she’s worried about the state of her crop.
“Because of earlier weather this spring we basically have no apples to speak of. Instead we’ve been trying to put in a lot of vegetables like potatoes, peas, squash to make up a little bit of a difference. As far as an irrigation system goes we’re not going to have a whole lot of crop at all.”
For those farmers that can afford to implement an irrigation plan, fuel use is a significant concern, and prices are digging into their bottom line.
“All farmers are looking up at the sky and wondering where the water has gone,” Herrle said.
After a contrastingly good yield in strawberries this season, Herrle’s biggest challenge is the sweet corn, peas and beans. To maximize productivity, his crops are irrigated only at night in order to conserve water. For many farmers, he said, irrigation is not a viable option either due to lack of resources or because it is simply impractical for crops like soybeans.
Despite current circumstances it is still too early to tell what kind of profits will be made at the end of the year and farmers are striving to keep the cost of their products the same, if not slightly above normal.