Forecast looks good for Southwestern Ontario farmers growing wheat, soybeans and corn

By Jonathan Juha, Postmedia News

Farming equip sits idle at a farm in Arva on Wednesday. Hannah MacLeod/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

Farming equip sits idle at a farm in Arva on Wednesday. Hannah MacLeod/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

Favourable spring conditions are giving soybean and corn farmers in one of the nation’s richest farm belts hope for another good year.

Environment Canada forecasts an average spring which would be good for wheat, corn and soybeans, the most important crops in the region.

“The forecast for the spring looks, generally speaking, relatively normal,” meteorologist Peter Kimbell said.

Though the forecast says April will be warmer than normal, with temperatures already hitting 20  C compared to the seasonal average of 6.8 C, Kimbell said precipitation is expected to be around the usual 83 millimetres for the month.

“We have a couple of warm weeks in store, but there are no signals of anything abnormal in terms of precipitation.”

Ed Ketchabaw, president of the Elgin Federation of Agriculture, said the forecast is welcome news.

“If you have an average spring, some nice warm weather and you have adequate moisture, we are all off to a good start.”

If planting begins early enough, farmers could be looking at reaching full yield potential, he said.

But Ketchabaw remains cautious, noting the turning point last year didn’t arrive until the end of May, when a two-month drought, followed by several August downpours, left corn production about 20 bushels an acre short of the 2015 crop average.

“Hopefully we have better growing conditions this year than we did last year and you don’t see the droughts, so we have better yields expectations . . . But it’s looking more encouraging than last year.”

Winter wheat, Southwestern Ontario’s third major crop, experienced a record-breaking year in 2016, thanks in part to an early start to the planting season in the fall of 2015 and a milder winter that year.

This allowed farmers in the ­province to hit a record high average yield of 90.9 bushels an acre last summer, up 15.9 per cent over 2015, according to Statistics Canada.

And though early projections look promising, matching last year’s output may be difficult.

“Things are looking good right now. We had some warm weather early in February and the wheat broke dormancy, and we didn’t have any overly difficult weather afterward, so the wheat did very well over the winter. It looks in good shape and it has a lot of potential,” said Dave Park of Parkland Farms in Sarnia.

His farm averaged 117 bushels of wheat per acre last year, 17 bushels more than its previous high.

“But I think I would be a little overly optimistic if I thought it would as great as last year because, quite frankly, it was the highest yield ever. And getting that two years in a row seems like a long shot,” Park said.

“It’s the weather we get from here on out that will establish whether it is an excellent crop or not.”