OFA says ongoing drought is raising the stakes for farmers across the province
Despite ideal growing conditions at the start of the 2012 season, many farmers have watched helplessly as previously healthy plants show signs of distress. Pastures, too - critical to grazing livestock - have all but dried up as a result of the drought plaguing much of eastern Ontario, putting livestock farmers in critical need of water and food for their animals.
Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), said it's no big surprise stories about the drought have "monopolized" much of the media lately.
"The OFA will be working with Ontario commodity associations and the provincial government to address immediate needs on the farm," he remarked. "Farmers will need to set up and access water storage facilities to get water to livestock or for irrigation. We need to find sources of feed and hay for livestock already on feed, because there are no pastures where they can graze"
Wales noted a spring frost killed much of Ontario's alfalfa crop this year, and some reports say hay yield is down by 75 per cent over last year - a problem Wales said will carry forward well into next year.
While visiting a plant in Guelph last week, Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged the struggle and noted the province will be there with support if drought conditions continue.
Likewise, agriculture minister Ted McMeekin is touring the province.
"He has noted that farmers who expect crop losses need to file notices of a potential claim with Agricorp, the provincial Crown agency that provides financial relief to farmers," Wales explained.
While record low rainfall is devastating many farmers and crops, Wales said there are some fields in parts of the province that are "doing okay" despite the dry conditions.
"Farmers with crops that produce adequate yields at harvest will stand to have the added benefit of high commodity prices on world markets, but those high grain prices in turn will penalize livestock producers who need to buy grain for animal feed," he explained.
Wales said the OFA is committed to partnering with others to work on all possible relief measures during this time.
"We may need financial or tax measures to facilitate herd liquidation where necessary," Wales commented. "However, sale prices for livestock are now under pressure due to U.S. meat inventory and that country's own herd reduction."
In addition to immediate relief needs Wales said farmers must also look at the long term since severe weather appears to be the new norm.
"Severe weather is becoming the norm," he said. "Research into ground water inventory, water conservation and drought resistant crops remain high priorities as Ontario agriculture takes stock and moves on with lessons learned from drought 2012."
Staff at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs have developed a comprehensive online list of information resources for farmers who are concerned about the effect of the current dry weather on their operations.
Information is available on dry weather conditions as it relates to business considerations, impact to crops and animal welfare. Farmers may also wish to contact ministry staff at 1-877-424-1300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"The issues involved by this severe weather situation are complex and far reaching," Wale noted. "The impacts will be felt for years. That is why it important to act quickly and decisively to mitigate drought impacts."