'We need rain': Extended dry spell could stunt field crops in eastern Ontario

The lack of rain over the past month set a record in Ottawa, and farmers across eastern Ontario are seeing the effects of that on their field crops.

Near Athens, northwest of Brockville, Andreas Baumann of Wittekind Jersey Farm just finished planting soybeans last week.

"Inputs went good, it was dry to get it in. Now we need rain to get it to grow," Baumann said, standing in one of his hayfields. 

He's farmed full-time for 11 years, and he can't remember having a drier month of May.

"It's important to make sure we get full germination," Baumann said. "Our beans are struggling a little bit right now. We had to plant them deeper, make sure we got the moisture and the hay crop behind us here was cut last week. And if it doesn't get rain this will be our second cut which is not much."

The city of Ottawa set a record with the driest May in 100 years. Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips agrees it's been a tough stretch.

"At the Ottawa Airport, only 13 millimetres of rain. You normally would get 80 millimetres of rain," Phillips said. "And most of the rain occurred on the first week of May, so really, we've had just less than a thimbleful of rain in the last three weeks."

"It's almost as if nature's forgotten how to precipitate in the Ottawa Valley," added Phillips. "But it's a problem that's occurring right from the Okanagan right through to eastern Quebec. Extreme in the Prairies."

Phillips said in the last three weeks, no area in Canada has been drier than eastern Ontario and southwestern Ontario.

Rain is in the forecast for Thursday across most of the region, but it will not add up to much relief.

"It's going to be a very disorganized, weak system that's going to come in and bring maybe rain starting early Thursday morning in the Ottawa area," Phillips said. "From five to 20 millimeters of rain. It's welcome, accepted, it's good, but it's not the drought buster that farmers need."

"I would like to see a good inch, like a good soaking rain, preferably an all day rain," added Baumann. "Not a downpour, nice, nice, steady rain that lasts all day to kind of soak in. And that should get us through another two or three weeks."

"(Our) corn and beans will start to struggle for sure. We're on marginal ground here, a lot of shallow ground. So if we don't get steady rains, we run out of moisture," said Baumann. "We've implemented moisture preserving techniques, no-till and minimum till in the last 10 years on our farm, which helps. But it only does so much."

Baumann cuts hay two to three times a year, and if his hayfields don't get the moisture they need, they won't have enough forage for their cows to get them through the year.

"We'll end up needing to buy hay from other places. It's costly. It's cheaper for us to grow it ourselves," added Baumann.

After Thursday, temperatures are set to soar, reaching into the 30s and possibly setting records across the region.

"These are eight or nine degrees warmer than you'd expect for this time of the year," said Phillips. "It's more like kind of mid-July, not early June kind of temperatures."

"We see nothing but wall to wall sunshine, warm temperatures, warm nights and high humidity," said Phillips. "That just sucks every bit of moisture out of the ground."

"Muscle shirt and tank top kind of weather, good beer drinking weather, but hardly anything to correct the situation, which has been a moisture deficit for several weeks now," Phillips said.

This heat coming after frost hit farmers' crops over the weekend.

"We were lucky we didn't get hit," said Baumann. "Our neighbours lost some sweet corn and some strawberry plants and tomatoes and stuff like that, some other places I've heard did lose field crops."

The main focus right now is the rainfall farmers desperately need.

"A couple of guys that I know, some guys are just putting in some millet for emergency forages and it definitely needs some rain now to make sure it germinates," added Baumann.

"I think we still have a few weeks. I wouldn't call it a disaster yet at this point," he said.