Hot, dry summer will mean higher food prices, minister says

Ontario's minister of agriculture is warning that the dry weather dominating the province will lead to higher food prices in the fall.
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Ontario's minister of agriculture is warning that the dry weather dominating the province will lead to higher food prices in the fall.

"There are places where it's clearly a drought, the crop in many parts of Ontario are showing the signs of distress," said Ted McMeekin, the province's minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Months of little or no rain is taking a toll on Ontario farmers, with many bracing for huge losses. McMeekin travelled to West Lincoln, Ont., on Tuesday to see the damage first-hand.

"Thirty years of farming and I've never seen anything like this," said farmer John Vuckovic, whose 56 hectares of corn are so dry that the soil is cracking. The stalks should be over his head by now; instead, they are waist-high.

McMeekin's visit came after a particularly dry winter with little snowfall, followed by a warm spring that tempted apple trees to blossom, followed by a devastating frost. Now Ontario is sweltering under record temperatures and below average rainfalls.

Henry Van Ankum, chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, says the number of crops on the brink of failure across the province is between 50 and 60 per cent.

"There might be stuff you're not able to get," Vuckovic said. "You can have all the money in the world but if it's not there, it's not there."

If corn crops fail, it could have a huge ripple effect because corn is also used as fuel and feed for cattle.

The small town in the Niagara region is typical of others across the province that have been starved for rain during one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

Federal NDP call southern Ontario 'a wasteland'       

The federal New Democrats also warned Tuesday that the price of food is set to soar.

NDP MP Malcolm Allen described parts of southern Ontario as a wasteland, where many crops have been damaged too badly to bounce back.   

"If you look at parts of southwestern Ontario, it looks like a desert," he told a news conference. "The corn is no higher than six inches, and it's burnt. There's no saving that corn."   

Allen and his colleague Ruth Ellen Brosseau are calling on Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to do more to reassure drought-stricken farmers.   

But Ritz's office said the government has several programs in place to help farmers mitigate and manage the financial impact of weather-related events, such as drought.   

Spokesperson Jeff English said it's up to the provinces to ask Ottawa for help and, so far, none of the provinces have made such a request. 

As bad as things are in Canada, it's even worse south of the border. The extreme drought baking America's breadbasket to a crisp recently sent corn prices soaring to a record-high $8 US a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.  Prices could rise even higher as more corn crop withers in the United States, the world's biggest corn grower and exporter.


With files from The Canadian Press