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Ontario growers hoping for rain as corn, wheat and soybean fields start to dry out

May 29, 2012, Chatham – An extremely dry spring has Ontario grain farmers dreaming of clouds as most fields are in need of a significant rainfall. Large areas in the south are at only 40-60% of normal precipitation for the past eight weeks, in stark contrast to last year’s rainy, muddy mess. Ken Currah, agronomist with PRIDE Seeds, is keeping a close eye on corn plots in particular.

“We’re seeing variability creeping into corn fields due to drought,” Currah said, “even in good loam fields west of Woodstock. My biggest concern is any corn that was planted late, maybe ten days ago, and is just spiking through right now. Those stands are coming up pretty uneven.”
A rainfall map for Ontario is available from WeatherCentral.ca that gives a clear picture of just how dry it’s been since April. The driest band stretches east-west from Hamilton to London and north up to Kincardine.

Currah said the lack of rain is problematic from a moisture perspective, but also from a weed-control standpoint.

“I never like to think that you can lose yield this early from being dry, but it’s causing headaches for post-emergent weed control. The weed pressure, that’s the real yield robber,” he said.

Scouting in Petrolia last week, OMAFRA wheat specialist Peter Johnson saw one field with two-inch wide cracks that went two feet deep.
“You sure wouldn’t want to drop your pen or wrench down there because I don’t think you’d ever find it again,” Johnson said. “I was also into south Bruce County and the wheat is suffering very significantly on the gravel knolls. You can see leaves starting to curl and it looks very tough.”

Some localized showers over the weekend helped somewhat, but Johnson says many areas received little to no rain at all.

“I talked to a grower in south Lambton County who only got four-tenths of an inch, and up in the Exeter/Mitchell area they only got about two-tenths,” Johnson said. “Quite a lot, two thirds to three quarters of the wheat acres in the province could really benefit from a gentle one-inch rain. A lot of the wheat started pollinating some time mid-last week, down in Essex for the most part. Through this week it will be pollinating north of London. Moisture right now, and cooler temperatures as well, are fairly important to get the optimal seed set in the head.”

Soybeans are fairing somewhat better, according to OMAFRA’s Horst Bohner. He expected planting to be 95% completed over the weekend, thanks in part to the dry weather, but said they’ll need a drink fairly soon.

“It’s not to the point of being detrimental yet,” Bohner said, “I was standing in a field Friday morning and the emergence was excellent. These were planted maybe ten days ago and they’re all up. There’s moisture about two inches down some places; it just depends on where you are. In Norfolk the difference between a dry field and a wet one is a five-minute drive down the road.”
Currah, however, said that some beans planted in the last two weeks that he’s seen aren’t looking ideal.

“Those stands just really need a rain because they’re not coming up even at all,” Currah said. “We’re going to have variability right out of the gate and that always takes some top-end yield off to a certain degree. That being said, there are some lights-out good-looking fields out there, with five and six-leaf corn that are beautiful and even. The early beans look very good too. There is some fantastic looking stuff out there.”