Statistics Canada projects 6% decline in corn yield, 15% decline in soybeans

Marred by a soggy, cool spring that delayed planting, just-released projections from Statistics Canada show field crop production in the province’s southwest will see steep drop-offs.

Sweet corn being harvested by John Bradish of Glanworth on Gideon Drive on Monday. The corn, is destined for the Ingersol Bonduelle plant where it will be blanched and flash frozen within 4 1/2 hrs of being harvested said Jennifer Thompson of Bonduelle. Bonduelle grows around 35,000 acres of processing vegetables all going for Frozen and Canning in well-known brands such as Arctic Gardens, Delmont, Green Giant, No Name, etc. Photograph taken on Monday August 26, 2019. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

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It started out bad, but now Statistics Canada has a clearer picture of how much of a decline Ontario farmers may see in yield this year.

Marred by a soggy, cool spring that delayed planting, just-released projections from Statistics Canada show field crop production in the province’s southwest will see steep drop-offs.

According to results from the field crop survey, the winter wheat harvest in Ontario was down 30 per cent, while yields in the province’s corn and soybean sectors are projected to fall six per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

Just how bad the financial fallout for farmers will be hinges on the coming fall. Warm temperatures and a late frost could make up for an abnormally late start to the planting season.

But farmers say the impacts of the difficult season are likely to be felt years.

“We lost a tremendous amount of acres” of wheat, said Dave McEachren, the Grain Farmers of Ontario’s representative in Middlesex County, adding the region’s winter wheat was particularly hard-hit.

“I don’t believe there were really any areas of the county that were untouched from losing winter wheat.”

Winter wheat bound for Cargill in Sarnia is loaded into a trailer at a grain elevator outside Ilderton owned by the Robson family. Jamie Robson said the wheat crop they were able to plant early last fall has been excellent, but crops planted later have fared worse. Robson said they were forced to rip up about 20 per cent of their wheat crop this spring and replant with  soybeans. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

Planted under less-than-ideal conditions last fall, low snow cover in some areas during the winter, with plenty of freeze-and-thaw cycles, followed by one of the wettest springs in decades only made matters worse for wheat crops.

“There were bad conditions in the fall, there were bad conditions in the spring, and they just piggybacked each other, one after another,” said Dave Park, a Lambton-area grower.

“In my case, we had to (chemically) burn off a lot of our wheat in the spring. It just didn’t make it at all.”

The rainy spring posed extra challenges for growers needing to cut their losses on wheat and plant corn, with many farmers having a difficult time getting seed in the ground due to wet conditions.

Though Statistics Canada expects seeded acreage for corn in Ontario to keep pace with its 2018 numbers – about 2.2 million acres – corn yields are projected to fall six per cent.

Philip Shaw, an agronomist and longtime farmer from Chatham-Kent, says the fallout from the late corn planting season will be significant.

“Some corn wasn’t planted and if it was planted later, it’s likely to be a lower yield and not as good quality,” Shaw said.

“It all depends on the weather going forward. If we get a wide open September and October with warm temperatures and low (risk of) frost, it might be better than we thought,” Shaw said.

Mark Huston, a Thamesville-area farmer, agreed the corn yield will depend on whether the corn has enough time to mature before it’s killed by frost.

“We are sort of in a waiting game now to see what happens from here until (harvest),” he said. “But because it was planted as late as it was, the potential of the crop isn’t as large as it would otherwise be.”

Some farmers, prevented by the wet spring from planting corn, turned to soybeans.

While the total harvested area for soybeans is expected to increase in Ontario, Statistics Canada projects production to decrease to 3.7 million tonnes in 2019.

As concerning as the decline in yields could be, McEachren said this season also will have a lasting impact on soil health and future crops.

“Having a delayed crop, you give up some potential yield automatically . . . but also a big one is our loss of crop rotation,” he said, calling a typical corn, soybean and wheat rotation ideal for soil health and pest control.

“When we get into a year like this, where soybean acres have increased dramatically, it’s going to take two or three years to get back into a proper crop rotation and that’s a challenge and a financial burden.”

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