Erratic rainfall caused woes for farmers

Sam Odrowski

Agriculture is extremely dependent on the weather, which plays a crucial role in creating profitable yields at the end of each growing season.
Unfortunately, this summer’s heat and sporadic rainfall made things difficult for farmers across the district.
“It’s been all over the place and it’s been very much a challenge,” said Kim Jo Bliss, who is manager of the Emo Agricultural Research Station (EARS).
“It seems that all we complain about is the weather but it affects everything that we can possibly do,” she stressed.
On paper, rainfall amounts from May to October appears to have been fairly consistent with years past, sitting at a total of 472.5 mm, according to the 2018 weather summary compiled by EARS.
In fact, last year’s rainfall was only 22 mm more while Environment Canada’s rainfall average for Emo is close to this year’s seasonal total, sitting at 494 mm.
The problem farmers faced was that the precipitation seemed to come all at one time–creating long periods in which crops would go without anything to drink.
“It rained early July and at the end of August, but there was a good stretch there where there was nothing at all,” Bliss noted.
“It doesn’t look bad on paper but in the real world, it didn’t come here and there, it came all at once.”
Heat also had a major impact on the crops when coupled with the extended dry periods.
“The [research station’s] soybeans really started to hurt around the middle of August because they were really desperate for rain and they didn’t get it.” Bliss said.
“They probably would have grown for a couple more weeks until we got frost, but they started to just shut down right around Emo Fair time because they were just too dry.”
Heat usually is great for increasing yields but without enough moisture, the hot weather actually can be detrimental to a crop’s health.
“On a year like this, our varieties that we chose do extremely well because we have an abundance of heat,” Bliss said.
“But our problem this year was we had the heat, we just didn’t have the moisture at the right time,” she explained.
This year’s crop heat units from May to October totalled 2,775, which is up from the 2,382 heat units that were measure during last year’s growing season.
In fact, from May to October, Emo had the warmest weather since 2005, which totalled 2,815 heat units.
The formula for determining heat units each month is dependent on daily highs and lows.
District farmers, meanwhile, now are facing a new challenge. The recent plunge in temperatures, coupled with an increase in rain/snowfall, crop harvests and field work has been made difficult.
“In reality, it is very much a problem,” Bliss said.
“Maybe it’s not as extreme in our district but if you read anything in the west, some guys haven’t even had their combine out of the shop yet and now they’re sitting there with snow,” she noted.
“There’s been farmers committing suicide and it’s terrible because they’re just so stressed and things are so bad.
“It seems unreal but it’s hard on you because it’s your whole livelihood and you can’t change it,” Bliss added.
“When you break something, you can figure out a way to fix it. But you can’t fix this broken weather.”
Bliss said there’s still fields of crops in the district that farmers would like to harvest and a ton of field work that’s yet to be done.
No one can get out and plow, or even spread fertilizer, with the current weather, which will make things more difficult for farmers come spring, she warned.
“You can’t get on the land when it is this wet because number one, you get stuck and number two, you cause more grief because when those machines are on land, they just compact everything and then you end up with growing problems for many more years to come,” Bliss explained.
“Across the board it’s really just plain rotten.”
Looking ahead, Bliss is hoping for drier and warmer weather to allow district farmers to prepare their lands for next spring.