A summer's worth of heat this spring

Hamilton and area experienced a summer's worth of days above 30 degrees this Spring, and farmers are starting to sweat

Hamilton experienced a summer's worth of days above 30 degrees in May and June

This spring Hamilton experienced 11 days of above 30 degree weather, almost double the number experienced throughout all of last year, according to Climatologist Dave Phillips. (Brad Pipe)

Sun-worshippers across Southern Ontario have been enjoying more days above 30 degrees in May and June of 2016 than all of last year.

But what's good for sunbathers is bad for almost everyone else.

Sunshine and heat are leading to a number of issues in the region, including low crop yields, poor soil, low reservoir levels, trouble for groundwater wells, and increased financial difficulty for food producers and cash-crop farmers. 

In spring  "we normally would see three or four," days about 30 C, said David Phillips, Senior Climatologist with Environment Canada. "Last year we didn't even have seven days where the temperature got above 30."

The Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton registered 11 days with temperatures exceeding 30 C, adding up to a hot and dry spring.

You don't need to be a climatologist to realize that crops are stressing.- David Phillips

"We've had double the number of hot days," said Phillips. "And they just haven't been 30.1, they've been up to 32 or higher."

And the heat isn't the only problem facing farmers, who are struggling with the lack of rainfall.

"We've seen precipitation totals in the Hamilton area that are maybe 40 per cent of what you normally would get," said Phillips.
Christie Lake Reservoir is almost a foot below targets for this time of year, according to Hamilton Conservation Authority.

Hamilton's Conservation Authority is reporting low levels of precipitation, and the Christie Lake Reservoir is just under a foot lower than target levels for this time of year.

The June assessment coming out early July could potentially declare a level-one drought, according to Jonathan Bastien, Water Resources Engineer with the Conservation Authority.

"You don't need to be a climatologist to realize that crops are stressing," said Phillips. "It doesn't look pretty out there."

Running low

For food producers in Southern Ontario, hot and dry weather is a challenge, and while it has yet to be labeled a drought, it feels like one.

"We're worried about our well going dry," said Michael Mikaluk, owner and founder of Common Ground Teaching Farm, located near Mount Hope in rural Hamilton.

We're worried about our well going dry.-Michael Mikaluk, Common Ground Teaching Farm

"It's decreased yields across the board," said Mikaluk, adding that in non-irrigated fields, yields are as low as 10 per cent of expected numbers.

The combination of hot days and dryness also leads to issues of pest and disease, causing more stress for farmers of all kinds.

It's "that ugly double whammy of hot days and just too dry and sunny conditions," said Phillips. "It may be great for drinking beer on outdoor patios or going swimming at the cottage, but it's not good for growers and farmers."

No easy fix for farms

In response, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario has been putting in place more training and programming on irrigation techniques and drought management, said Executive Producer Ali English.

But irrigation systems aren't enough to solve the issue.

It's late in the season, but farmers are still turning to irrigation systems like this one to combat the lack of rainfall. (CBC)

"Irrigation costs mean more costs for farm businesses," she said, which adds to an already tight-budgeted business.

"Most farms are in financially precarious situations. It's a challenging business to run profitably."

And while many farms are putting in place systems, or finding ways to try and get around the weather, Phillips reports that it's far from over.

"It may very well get worse before it gets better," he said. "Only nature could correct the situation and she just doesn't seem to want to do it."

Predictions for the summer

With forecasts for the next two weeks showing possible showers only on July 1, food producers are concerned about hte potential for ongoing drought conditions and longer term effects on their business.

Farmers across Southern Ontario have been struggling in a hot, dry spring. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

"This is just generally speaking going to be a really hard year for farmers," said Mikaluk, who was hoping to build a greenhouse at Common Ground this fall.

Instead, he's now concerned about not being able to keep on staff after summer's end.

"We're so far behind in the amount of water that the ground is really starting to dry up," he said. "We'll get a fraction of the yields that we were expecting."

We still have those torrid, sultry days of July, August and September to come. It's not looking good.- David Phillips

Counting on Mother Nature

All hope is not lost, but it certainly seems far away.

The type of rain needed to put life back into the soil is very specific. A quick thunderstorm won't do. Phillips describes this sort of rain as a 'slow, percolating' shower that will soak into the soil.

But, he said, "we just don't see any of that in the horizon."

"We still have those torrid sultry days of July, August and September to come. It's not looking good."