Farmers across Canada have their eyes on the sky as many parts of the country are experiencing drier than usual conditions this planting season.
“Everything we put in goes in with a hope and a prayer,” says Andrea Ross, who owns Carma Farms in Markham, Ont.
Last week Ross planted a strawberry field only to lose it to frost. With warmer than usual temperatures, she’s concerned about the rest of her soybeans, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers and beans.
“The word drought is a scary thing because there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Drought is impacting the agriculture sector across Canada but the brunt of the dry weather is being felt in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where moisture levels have been low since last fall. Moisture levels have improved in B.C. and Alberta, where there’s been more precipitation and snowpack.
Ontario has received about half of the precipitation expected at this time of the year.
“It’s part of the larger North American drought and that’s what’s quite disturbing. Drought to some degree stretches from the Maritimes to central B.C. in Canada and in the U.S. it stretches down to the southwest,” explains John Pomeroy, the Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Control.
“The overall pattern for the continent is dry, drier than normal,” added Pomeroy during an interview from his office in Canmore, Alta.
That means soil moisture is low and with crops largely in the ground, there are concerns seeds may not germinate. In some cases, they’ve been planted two to three inches in the ground in an effort to find moisture.
“We would love to have a rain a week, which would be great but that doesn’t typically happen,” says Jeff Steiner, who works for Reesors Seed and Grain in Ontario’s York Region.
“What is really important for growing the crops is getting a rain during flowering and that’s generally going to be July or August and if we don’t get rains during that period then we won’t get the yields we’re hoping for.”
That could impact the price you pay at the grocery store.
Near Ottawa, farmers experienced a bout of frost last week and are contending with drier than usual conditions.
“You are seeing drought a lot more widespread and a lot earlier than on record and I’ve been farming for 15 years now and this is the driest I’ve ever seen it this early,” says Jennifer Doelman, who is also a beekeeper.
“We just had a hard frost so with the early spring a lot of the trees, a lot of the crops were ahead of schedule so they were especially vulnerable to this so it has kind of been a double whammy.”
Experts say what is needed is soaking rains that last two or three days at a time to help put moisture into the ground instead of heavy rains that simply run off into streams and rivers.
“Ideally, to recover from a drought situation like this we’re getting a number of days of rain with light rain that is able to soak into the soil and replenish that soil that is there,” says Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist in the monitoring and forecasting unit of the National Agroclimate Information Service in Regina.
Meanwhile, south of the border, the drought in the western United States is putting California’s reservoirs at dangerously low levels. This drought is hotter and drier than previous ones, which means the water is evaporating faster. Experts say the state’s more than 1,500 reservoirs are 50 per cent lower than they should be this time of year.
— With files from The Associated Press