Drought in Central, Eastern Canada baking crops

Shoppers might see the price of produce go up, as much of Central and Eastern Canada experience near drought-like conditions coupled with extreme heat, which are taking their toll on crops.

Weather a 'double whammy,' expert says

A lack of rain and extremely hot temperatures badly affecting crops mean that Canadian consumers will likely be paying more for their produce.

Most of Central and Eastern Canada is experiencing extreme heat and little rain causing drought conditions, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada says.

"I'd call it a drought, no question about it," David Phillips told the CBC News Network in an interview Sunday afternoon.

"Besides the lack of precipitation, there is just this hot weather and it's like a double whammy," Phillips said. "There's no rain and all that heat demands evaporation ... it's almost as if the atmostphere has forgotten how to rain."

That could mean shoppers might see the price of produce go up.

So far this summer there have been record-setting high temperatures across Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces coupled with some of the lowest rainfall on record.

"It’s devastating," said Stan Szatrowski, a farmer in Simcoe, Ont. "It’s the worst it’s ever been. The yield will be half of what it normally should be."

But Szatrowski added that as farmers like him feel the pain, so will consumers.

"Chances are prices will go up for the consumer, but there's nothing we can do about it," he said. "With the price of fuel and the crop, that's just kind of the way it goes. We're not making any more money. We're losing money."

Quebec's apple farmers are also expecting mediocre crops because of the extreme weather and high temperatures that have been affecting most of eastern Canada.

"We're not expecting record productions this year," said Daniel Ruel, regional director for Quebec's federation of apple producers. "It will probably be around five million cases of apples, rather than the six million we had last year."

That could represent a 15 per cent decrease compared with last year.

Experts say that corn is an especially vulnerable crop right now because of the lack of rain that is essential to help pollination.

Price of corn rising

Evan Fraser, who studies the social impacts of agriculture at the University of Guelph, said the price of corn has already gone up about 30 per cent over the past few weeks.

"The weather of the next two weeks will be absolutely critical in determining how our corn farmers fare, in terms of this year’s harvest," Fraser said.

Szatrowski said irrigation methods merely keep the plants going but it’s rain that makes them thrive. "When the rain comes from the sky, it brings the nitrogen in and the plants just come to life, whereas irrigation just keeps it alive," he said.

The heat and lack of rain also has farmers worried in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, where the temperature has reached 30 C almost every day this week, causing water levels in irrigation ponds to dip precariously low.

Sylvia Forsyth and her son, Brice, run a farm market in Berwick and although business has been good, the weather conditions have Forsyth concerned.

"We're just trying to keep as much alive as we can," she said. "Hopefully we'll get some rain and that will ease the situation."

Hot weather continues

CBC weather specialist Jay Scotland said hot, sticky weather is continuing across eastern Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Heat and humidity warnings have been issued for southern Quebec, including Montreal, which broke a record with Saturday's high of 33 C.

Although some showers are expected, it may not be enough to make a significant difference if it comes in the form of brief thunder storms.

"The problem is when you get your rain in these heavy bursts — these thunder storms — a lot of that just ends up in the sewer drain anyway as run off," Scotland said. "But we’ll take what we can get at this point."

In the last 30 days across southern Ontario, many areas have received 10 to 20 millimetres of precipitation or less, down 60 per cent from the normal amount.