Eastern Ontario farmers in 'dire need' of rain as drought worsens

Farmers in Eastern Ontario are warning they're in 'critical' need of rain, or there could be severe crop loss.

Farmers warn there could be less local produce available in Ottawa area this year

Mel Foster (L) and Doug McKay, farmers in North Gower, Ont. say the soil is bone dry. (CBC)

Farmers in Eastern Ontario say they're in "dire need" of rain in the next "week to ten days," or they risk losing up to forty per cent of their crop.

On Friday, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority declared a "moderately severe" drought, and data from Environment Canada shows the Ottawa International Airport recorded the driest May since 1959.

Some farmers in North Gower, a rural Ottawa community about 40 kilometres south of downtown, said they've had to begin using irrigation systems to water their crops for the first time since 2012. 

"We're hoping and praying we do get some rain," said Mel Foster, a co-owner of Foster Family Farm, which sells vegetables to local Loblaws and Farm Boy stores.

"If...the drought continues...there will be less produce available locally."

Drought could cut into farmers' profits

Foster said installing irrigation systems has created "extra workload" for the farm, and will cut into its profits.

Workers recently transplanted onions from the farm's greenhouse to the field, which Foster said quickly "wilted" and "bent over" because of the lack of moisture in the ground. 

Fellow North Gower farmer Doug McKay, said there hasn't been a time in recent memory when it was this dry, this early in the year.

Farmers in North Gower say the soil is "bone dry." (CBC)

His cattle farm also produces hay for area horses, but he said he risks losing "forty per cent" of his crop because the hay simply isn't growing.

"We're in dire need of some rain...I put fertilizer on my hay field about four weeks ago and we haven't had substantial rain to actually make the fertilizer penetrate the ground."

Ottawa region reaches 'critical' moment 

The region has reached a "critical" moment according to Rejean Pommainville, a director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture in Glengarry, Prescott, Russell and Stormont.

"In the next week to ten days… we need a certain amount of rain," said Pommainville. 

"I would say it's very critical, especially for the new crops that's growing… their growth could be stunted because of the drought."

There is some rain in the forecast, but the North Gower farmers worry it won't be enough.

"I'm hoping we get three or four days of rain," said Doug McKay.

"Not a heavy downpour where it's all just going to hit the ground, because the ground is very hard right now… and if hard rain hits the ground it's just going to run off."