Ottawa

'The damage is done': Farmers worried about this year's crop

Several weeks of intense, hot weather and little rain has Ottawa-area farmers worried about lower yields for this farming season.

'Even if we did get a rain, it's not really going to change things around'

Rob Parks is worried that his crops are too damaged from the dry and hot weather to recover. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Several weeks of intense, hot weather and little rain has Ottawa-area farmers worried about lower yields for this farming season.

Rob Parks, 44, says the growing season on his farm at Fallowfield and Eagleson roads began "spectacularly" with good seeding in ideal conditions and much less mud than last year.

But, with virtually no rain so far in the month of July and recent daytime temperatures in the 30s, it's been downhill ever since for the corn and soybean farmer.

"The damage is done," said Parks. "Even if we did get a rain, it's not really going to change things around."

Parks, who took over the family farm at 18, can't remember a summer with more frustrating or misleading weather forecasting.

"Every time they call chance of rain, there's still more of a chance it's not going to rain," he said.

Parks admits he's grown pessimistic about the chances his 360 hectares will rebound from the heatwave.

Ottawa farmer Rob Parks shows off a crop that's slowly dying given the lack of rain. At Richmond Nursery, Peter Rofner is spending hours each day rotating a sprinkler system across his strawberry fields to keep them moisturized. 1:04

Current dry spell means smaller cobs

According to Parks, this week is a critical time — especially for the corn plants that are now developing cobs.

He said of his 180 hectares planted with corn, about half are entering the pollination cycle, meaning the silky tassels of the plants will soon appear.

"That's a critical time for moisture," said Parks. "And that will affect the cob size."

A harvest of small cobs will mean less overall tonnage to sell at harvest time.

Parks said he could lose up to 30 per cent of his profits because of small, drought-affected cobs and his 180 hectares of soybeans aren't in much better shape.

His concern is that the string of dry days may cause the plants to stop flowering, and not develop into a soybean pod at all.

In ideal conditions, a plant will produce three or four bean pods. But in a drought, that number can drop to one or even none.

"It's to the point now where it's starting to make or break the crop in eastern Ontario," said Parks.

The ground at Rob Parks's Ottawa-farm is parched from lack of rain. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Strawberry farmer relying on irrigation

One farmer who isn't complaining is Peter Rofner at Richmond Nursery.

Rofner credits his father's irrigation pond for his ability to keep the strawberry picking fields open to customers after many of his competitors have closed for the season.

"It's engineered to hold enough rain water to put an inch of water on this entire field," said Rofner.

He said strawberries need that much water each week to develop properly and avoid sun damage.

Peter Rofner says a large irrigation pond dug by his father decades ago provides enough water for daily watering of vulnerable strawberry plants. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Rofner walks hundreds of metres each day through sprawling fields, and keeps to a precise schedule in order to make sure the right water valves are opened at the right time so that none of the plants go thirsty.

"If you miss it, then you could lose it all," he explained.

When watered, strawberry leaves stand up and give shade to the developing berries.

"You keep the plants happy, you get happy fruit — that's my theory anyway," laughed Rofner.

A network of sprinklers provide essential moisture to strawberry crops at Richmond Nursery. (Stu Mills/CBC)