By London Free Press/Sun Media
Wheat harvest underway in Ontario amid concerns for average yields
The wheat harvest in Ontario has begun, and despite early-season forecasts of high yields and high prices, weather concerns, disease and pests have taken a toll. Expectations are now that yields will likely be average as prices dip from their previous highs.
It's shaping up to be a good but not great year for Ontario grain farmers as they start harvesting a record winter wheat crop.
Hopes were high this spring that farmers would harvest a bumper crop and cash in on record prices. But with the wheat harvest now underway, starting in the Essex-Kent region, the yields are only average, about 75 to 85 bushels an acre, and prices have retreated.
"It's a little disappointing because we had great hopes," said Peter Johnson, a crop specialist with Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture.
He said the reduced yields are due to factors that include a cool, wet spring weather and damage from army worms.
Ontario farmers planted a record 1.35 million acres of winter wheat last fall as prices soared on widespread reports of a global grain shortage. But prices sagged over the spring and are now hovering below $6 a bushel at local elevators, a level still well above the historic average.
Johnson said farmers could use some sunny weather, because recent thunderstorms have held up harvest and raised the threat of fusarium, a fungal disease that thrives in damp conditions. So far, the damage has been minor.
"We know that it's out there, so we will harvest as quickly as we can," Johnson said.
He said the corn crop is in good shape, with flooding and hail damage in some areas.
The soybean crop was generally planted late but appears to be progressing well.
Johnson said some edible beans were planted very late and hay crops have suffered from the wet weather.
Allen Taylor, a farmer from the St. Thomas area, started harvesting his wheat crop late last week but had to hold off because of recent rains. He said his yields appear to be about average.
Taylor said with volatile grain prices and the vagaries of weather, it's too early to predict how grain farmers will fare this year.
"We are always optimistic about a good year, but there's always something that knocks us back to average," said Taylor, a director with the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board.