Weather woes plague district farmers

Bryce Forbes

What started off as a promising season only has gone downhill for district farmers.
A beautiful April brought hopes of early bumper crops. But with a wet June, coupled with a pair of heavy downpours in early July, most farmers are now a few weeks behind schedule.
“It frigging sucks to tell you the truth,” Kim Jo Bliss, research technician at the Emo Agricultural Research Station (EARS), said bluntly.
“The thing was that we had such a beautiful spring.
“I don’t think there has been many years where Rainy River farmers had their crops in April and this year they did,” she noted.
“So it looked to be such a promising year and then the rain came.”
Combine that with a drop in temperatures and things aren’t looking great for local farmers.
“We are not that much over for normal rainfall amounts when you look at total precipitation,” Bliss explained.
“It’s just that the rain came and the heat stayed away so it wasn’t drying up the same.”
Bliss said dairy producers typically start cutting hay in early June.
“So a few of the guys started to get going and then it was wet for most of the month of June,” she remarked.
“Now through the first of July, heavy rain, so people are barely getting onto their fields, if they are even back on their fields yet,” she added.
Although it is different for most farmers, the common belief is most are two-four weeks behind schedule.
“At the research station, we are doing stuff now we are easily a month behind,” Bliss said.
“I’d say at home, I don’t cut hay as early as the dairy producers, but I’m just barely cutting hay so the whole season is bumped back and so are our lives,” she stressed.
“It’s probably my worst year,” she admitted. “I always get behind because things come up, but this is the first I’ve ever been behind this much and, personally, I feel the research station has never looked so ugly.”
This is the common sentiment around the district.
“Typically, my goal is to have the first cut done in the first week of July and we are just about a good third in,” said Amos Brielmann, a farmer from the Pinewood area.
“This is a very difficult year,” he agreed. “Last year, it was much easier to hay than this year because the soil conditions are so wet.
Brielmann said the worst thing to him is that the soil is so soggy.
“If the soil is soggy, it doesn’t dry,” he noted. “You can’t dry it, the equipment is always in the mud, and then things break.
“But that’s farming.”
Rainy River District typically receives eight inches of precipitation in the months of June and July, according to Environment Canada.
Much of the area got six-plus inches from thunderstorms on July 1 and again on July 3-4.
“If it stays dry for two or three weeks, farm wise you could get a heck of a lot of hay made and here at the station, we could get back on track,” Bliss remarked.
“When you look at the weather, it’s not calling for major storms at this point, but they are still talking showers off and on,” she noted.
“So showers off and on don’t make dry hay.
“The tricky part of this type of thing is because we planted earlier in April, our grain is going to be ready earlier,” Bliss explained.
“Some years that would be a bonus, but this year because haying is getting late, things are going to tie in together again,” meaning farmers will be cutting hay and harvesting crops at the same time.
The district’s crop farmers are feeling similar effects.
“There is really only one main crop guy growing here, and the biggest problem with the crops right now is that they are either suffering from being too wet or the guys aren’t able to spray a lot of the fields because it was wet for the entire month of June,” Bliss noted.
“So now most of their crops are headed out, which means you can’t spray anymore, so you’re going to get weedy crop so it makes harder to clean seed and less quality.”
Another problem facing farmers is leaving ruts in the mud if they head back to the fields too early.
“If you get on there and you leave ruts, you have to remember the fields are in production anywhere from five-10 years,” said Bliss.
“So if you have ruts this year, you’re going to be bouncing through them for the next few years, so it’s a little bit frustrating.”
Still, district farmers are holding out hope for this year.
Kim Cornell of Cornell Farms in La Vallee thinks he’s about two weeks behind right now, but isn’t overly concerned about it.
“We aren’t that terribly far behind, it’s [mid-] July,” he noted.
“[But] another week, if we don’t do much, we are really going to be far behind,” warned Cornell, who has about 500 acres left to cut.
“In an ideal world, we would have started out by the first of July,” he said. “We are roughly two weeks behind, so it’s not a crisis yet.
“I’ve never had a year where we didn’t get the hay, so I know I will get it done,” Cornell reasoned, recalling a year when he was haying at the time of the Emo Fair, which runs in the third week of August.
“We are a ways from that yet,” he remarked. “It’s better to cut late than cut and have it rained on for two weeks.”
For the farmers, it may be a little too early to tell if they can completely avoid trouble this year.
“The crop isn’t good at all. It’s just terrible,” lamented Brielmann. “The oats and barley just look terrible.
“It looked good in the spring, it was nice and dry, but then the rain came.”
Depending on what the weather does, Joey Sletmoen had been hoping to start cutting this past Saturday afternoon or Sunday.
“Every day it rains, it will set me back a couple of days and if I got stuff cut and not baled, it’s really going to hurt the quality of it,” added Sletmoen, who has cut 30 acres so far, with 130 remaining.
“I will notice in the fall because the quality isn’t going to be as good for the cows as they are eating it.
“Yield wise, I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m not far enough in to really tell yet.
“It looks like it’s pretty good, other than the hay is getting over-mature so the quality is going to be down because the grass is getting so old, it is going to seed.
“If we would have got this rain in the beginning of June, and it would have quit and dried out by the 20th [of June], we would have been laughing,” Sletmoen continued.
“We would have had bumper hay crops this year.
“That’s how it goes. You can’t control the weather so you have to go with what you get,” he reasoned.
“For example, if you see a field of alfalfa and the field is all purple flowers, it just means that the plant is old and it isn’t going to be as good as quality,” explained Bliss.
“Beef cows, it may not be such a big deal but for dairy cows, it would be.
“They want quality feed,” she stressed.
For the farmers, they always know it could be worse—they could be living in the Prairies.
“At least it’s better than the farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where it was so wet,” conceded Sletmoen.
“They couldn’t get the crop in the ground so they are going to lose most, if not all, of their year’s income,” he warned.