By Sheila Phibbs
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Regardless of the season, weather has a significant affect on agriculture production. The summer of 2020 has proven no different with soaring temperatures, little rainfall for extended periods of time, and farmers working tirelessly in the face of the one variable over which they have no control.
According to Canfield grain producer Kim Turnbull, this year’s challenges began when the wet, cool weather delayed the spring planting. Once planted, the crops grew a good root system to try to stay alive. He says, “The stress on the crops is evident; the wheat plants have dried out and the wheat kernels will be smaller as a result and, therefore, have reduced yields.”
Turnbull further explains that a corn plant will curl its leaves up during the day to conserve moisture and soybeans may abort potential florets. He admits, “There’s not a whole lot any farmers can do to manage unless you are near a water source and have the ability to irrigate. Pray that one of the pop-up thunderstorms hits your fields!”
Irrigation is critical for Snyder’s Sweet Corn near York, which is owned and operated by Tom and Brenda Snyder. Brenda says, “These hot dry days sure are a challenge when you don’t have access to water. We do not take for granted that we do, and we have definitely been using our resources a lot lately.”
They are in the process of switching all of their irrigation over to the subsurface drip system and Brenda says, “We are so very thankful for it! We try to never let our sweet corn crop have a bad day and so we are always proactive in our watering plan.”
In fact, the weeks leading up to the opening of the sweet corn season have involved some sleepless nights as Tom has operated overhead irrigation through the night. Brenda explains this is more efficient than daytime overhead irrigation, which can be hindered by sun and wind and can risk burning the plants. She says, “Our crop has definitely responded well to his care and our sweet corn is looking a-maize-ing!”
The drip system can run quietly all day, allowing other jobs to be done without interruption. She adds, “It also requires far less water and all of the water applied is used by the plant right where it needs it. Our thoughts and prayers are with all our farmer friends who are struggling as they have no choice but to accept what comes when it comes to rain.”
Anna McCutcheon describes a lack of rain as “always worrisome!” She farms with her husband Mark and their four children at McCutcheon Farms, a 400-acre dairy operation in Canfield with 120 cattle, including 60 milking cows and young stock. They also enjoy a small herd of goats. Crops such as hay and corn are grown primarily to provide year-round feed for the cattle. After a good crop of first-cut hay earlier in the summer, the lack of rain has impeded regrowth for second cut. Corn silage is also affected because, even though corn enjoys heat, timely rains aid growth and production of kernels. According to Anna, “In a dry year it isn’t just quantity of the feed that is affected but often the quality as well. Gaps need to be filled in with purchased feeds, which can get pretty expensive and can be hard to source as well.”
The extreme heat also affects the cows, whose high metabolic rate produces a lot of body heat. Anna says, “When we get extended periods of very hot weather it’s definitely hard on the cows. They are hot and uncomfortable just like we are.”
Milk production and even reproduction can be affected, so measures are taken to provide comfort including barn fans and a sprinkler system to help cool the cows.
Anna shares the everyday experiences of their farm family on her Facebook page “Dairy Farm ‘Tails’ from Moo to You” to help educate and create a better understanding of modern agriculture.
She stresses the knowledge and skill involved with farming but acknowledges, “There is also such a big part of it that is completely out of our hands. The cost of inputs (seeds, fertilizer, spray, fuel, labour) are already spent, and then we rely on good weather for the duration of the growing season to see if we can make an income off the crop at harvest time. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
At Spring Rock Farms in Hagersville, Bob Phibbs breeds Limousin beef cattle on the family farm. He agrees with Turnbull that the cold, wet spring had an impact on the crops as he recalls there being snow on his birthday in May. While overall yield was affected, he says, “First cut hay was so good that the cows are eating a lot of it.” He notes that with calving in January, the young animals in the herd are a “fair size and they want to eat a fair bit of hay too.”
With the lack of rain affecting growth of second cut hay, no-till oats will be planted in the recently harvested wheat fields to provide additional feed later in the year. Sorghum is grown and chopped for forage to supplement the hay. Recent rains will help as he says, “Every drop is going to benefit the soybeans, hay, and corn.” The frustration, however, is, “We’ve missed a lot of the rains. It gets pretty depressing when you can smell the rain, but you don’t get it.”
Phibbs keeps things in perspective saying, “It is what it is; on we go. Hopefully we’re past the worst.”
“All the machinery doesn’t run on love anymore. The biggest thing is to get through it without too many breakdowns,” he addes, noting that all farmers must be aware of the condition of machinery to avoid equipment running too hot in the field and risking fire. The condition of their animals is also a priority as, “They feel the heat as much as we do.”
Cattle want to be in the barn or shade, out of the sun and the heat. They also crowd together so their tails can swish away flies. The cows are also sprayed to help with fly control.
From managing pests to machinery repairs to inclement weather, there’s never a shortage of challenges with which farmers must contend. But in the agriculture community, there is also never a shortage of strong will and determination to get the work done. For generations, farmers have persevered and will continue to do so to get the seeds in the ground, the crops off the fields, and the food to our tables.