- Tanja Gahwiler, Crop Specialist
A Look Back at the 2018 Growing Season
As the snow is softly falling across the country side, covering our fields and marking the start of winter, many producers are releasing a sigh of relief that the year is finally over, and crossing their fingers in hopes that 2019 will bring a better growing season. 2018 was a year full of ups and downs throughout Canada’s cropping industry, and Northern Ontario was not an exception! Although it was a very tough year, with a wet spring and bone-dry summer, not everything was bad news. The heat produced some amazing soybean, canola and corn crops.
Spring came along a little later compared to other years, with the weather being fairly frosty until the end of April. By the middle of May, most farmers were out working and planting their fields, with most of #plant18 being finished by the end of May and early June at the latest.
Spring seemed to be going well, until the Temiskaming region received some very heavy rain storms around the May long weekend. Some areas received 1-2 inches of rain in a very short period of time. With such heavy rain falls, many fields ended up flooding. Some crops suffered from plants being drowned out, seeds rotting, washed-out seed beds or heavy crusting on the top layer of soil, impacting seedling emergence. Many farmers ended up re-seeding their crops.
The summer of 2018 can be described by two words: hot and dry. Most of the summer saw higher-than-average temperatures, with very few days in the month of June, July or August dropping below 20 degrees Celsius. With the hot weather came drought. The area did not receive much rain throughout the summer months, with the few rainy days being sporadic and providing very little precipitation.
According to Farmzone data, from June 1, 2018 to August 31, 2018, the Earlton area received 199mm of rain, compared to June 1, 2017 to August 31, 2017, where the Earlton region received 364.8mm of rain. With the warm temperatures all summer, the region had great accumulation of Growing Degree Days (GDDs) and Corn Heat Units (CHUs).
With the hot, dry weather, the growing season was quite a challenge for many crops in the region. Cereals and grasses are highly susceptible to heat and drought stress. When a cereal plant has these stresses, they rapidly develop through their growth stages. Therefore, instead of taking their time to grow and develop into a tall, strong plant with high yields, they grow much faster and end up producing a short plant with fewer seeds. This was seen throughout the region, with less than average cereal yields. The Agricorp Yield Data for 2018 had average yields for Spring Wheat at 52 bushels/ acre, and Spring Grains (includes both Oats and Barley) at 2766 lbs/acre.
Although the yields were down for spring wheat, the quality of the wheat grown in 2018 was some of the best wheat seen in the area. Plants were putting any energy they had into producing a high-quality seed, which ended up having the area produce many crops of wheat with protein percentages from 12.5 to as high as 15.8%. Also, with the dry weather, there was little disease pressure, so we saw very little fusarium in the wheat.
Hay crops also had a hard time this season. With the 2017-2018 winter being a very fluctuating winter, cycling through wet, warm weather, to freezing -30°C temperature, there was lots of freeze-thaw action in the fields. This led to one of the worst years for winter kill in alfalfa for the area. With reduced alfalfa stands, the average yields on alfalfa dropped throughout the area. Grass stands did very well in the beginning of the season, with the wet, cool temperatures, but once the drought hit, many hay fields had a hard time keeping up with normal growth rates. This led to many fields producing below- average hay crops and leading to a shortage of hay for many livestock producers in the area.
On a good note, the area saw some excellent quality canola being produced this year. Early planted canola had a great spring, with good moisture in the soil, helping to jump start and establish the plants quickly. With decreased pressure of swede midge in the area this summer, the canola plants were able to elongate and develop normally. However, the drought and heat prevented canola from reaching its full potential, causing stunted plants and aborted pods and flowers before the filling stage was reached. Despite this, yields were still good with an area average of 2200 lbs/acre (Agricorp, 2018).
This year did see more incidents of Clubroot in canola in the Temiskaming region. Meghan Moran, Canola Specialist from OMAFRA, says that Clubroot is in the area now, so farmers must work on trying to minimize transmission of the spores. She recommends farmers in the region begin growing Clubroot resistant varieties of canola. She also recommends keeping up a good crop rotation to slow down the development of spores and to try sanitizing and cleaning off all soils from equipment and boots when leaving fields. She hopes that with these steps we can slow the progression of clubroot in the region and minimize damages for years to come.
Soybeans also did very well in our area this summer. With the higher temperatures over the summer, soybean plants were able to grow and develop fully before the first frost hit. Plants were very healthy, loving the heat of the summer and always receiving just enough rain at the exact time when the plants needed it. This allowed for the plants to reach their potential, and they were able to produce and fill lots of pods. Agricorp has not yet released official yield numbers from the 2018 season, however from talking to farmers, many yields were ranging between the 40-50 bushel/ acre mark. There was also very little white mold pressures seen in the soybean fields this year thanks to the dry season decreasing the amount of spores being produced.
Harvest time was a long, drawn out process this year. With the cereal crop maturing fairly quickly, farmers began harvesting their crops in mid- to late August. During this time, crops were coming off at a fast rate, and it was looking like harvest 2018 would be a great one! Then, rain hit in the beginning of September and barely held off all month. Dry, sunny days were very seldom, so when they did occur, many farmers were pushing long hours, harvesting late into the night and working together to help neighbors out in hopes that everyone would get their crops off. Many farmers finished their harvest by mid- to late October, and elevators saw lots of wet crops coming in throughout the season. Shortly after, snow hit and the northern fields have been covered in snow since the middle of November.
All in all, the growing season of 2018 was one that will not be forgotten by farmers for a long time. With the busy spring, turning into a hot and dry summer and then a battle to harvest the crops come fall, I am sure many farmers are glad winter is here! It takes lots of time, energy, stress, work and very little sleep for farmers as they work to grow crops through such a tough season.
As Christmas comes around the corner, make sure you take some time to thank the farmers in your life, community and country, for all the hard work they put in to make sure us Canadians have food on our plates! We are very lucky to have such an amazing community of hardworking farmers and cannot forget to make sure they know we appreciate them!
Have a very merry and safe Christmas,