Farmers near ‘critical point’ as dry spell lingers

By Carl Clutchey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Murillo, Ont. — Anybody who has tried to grow a field of hay knows how quickly Mother Nature can become the bane of one’s existence.

Some growing seasons are tougher than most — and perilously dry to boot.

Thunder Bay-area farmers, like Murillo’s Andrew Brekveld, said Monday the serious lack of rainfall so far this month has left producers worried they may not see a second cut of hay this summer.

“Up until (earlier this month) we were doing OK,” Brekveld, a past-president of the Thunder Bay Soil and Crop Improvement Association, said from his dairy and cash-crop operation.

“But now (with the shortage of moisture) we are reaching a critical point. We had a good start to the spring, but rain now is essential.”

Brekveld said some farmers just outside the city have either just recently made their first cut of hay or, like him, are beginning to do so this week.

Hay is used to feed horses and cattle. If farmers are unable to grow their own, they sometimes look to a more expensive option: purchasing feed from other parts of the country fortunate enough to have extra for sale.

Brekveld said that could be tough to do this year.

“The whole country is dry,” he noted.

By mid-month, Thunder Bay had only received about five millimetres of rain — far short of the normal total amount for June of about 85 mm.

Brekveld said he hopes the summer isn’t headed for a repeat of the 2021 season, when a shortage of rain and record-breaking temperatures forced some farmers to sell their livestock because they couldn’t afford to feed them.

 When the climate is unkind, farmers have to improvise. Brekveld remembers chopping wheat in 2021 and using it for animal feed instead of sending it to market.

According to Environment Canada’s website, Thunder Bay could see some shower activity on Friday and Saturday, but not before the mercury climbs to an above-normal 28 C by the middle of the week. Even if rain does come, no significant rainfall amounts are being forecasted.

The normal daily high in Thunder Bay for this time of year is 22 C.

Meanwhile, the warmer-than-normal weather has been good for golfers, as well as people who operate golf courses.

“We’ve been pretty busy these last few days,” said Nancy Watson, who co-owns a nine-hole course just north of Thunder Bay. 

Watson said her fairways could also stand some rain, if the weather turns out to be kind later this week.