Ottawa-area farmers fear summer drought sequel

Some farmers around Ottawa are concerned the early heat could be a sign of another dry summer, which was devastating last year for the region's crops.

2012 drought a devastating hit for Ontario farmers

Farms such as Rainbow Heritage Gardens in Cobden, Ont., said 2012 was the worst drought in 40 years. (Ryan Gibson/CBC)

Some farmers in the Ottawa area say last summer's dry growing conditions are top of mind, as they plant their crops this year.

Last July was one of the driest months on record for the entire province and had drastic impact on all areas of the agriculture industry.

Many crops didn't grow at all, especially grazing crops used to feed cattle for beef and dairy production.

The fallout was an increase in the cost of food prices for both people and animals. Farmers worry one more dry, hot summer will lead to another spike in food prices.

"I got more grey hairs on my face from that, that's for sure," said Matt Vandenberg of Rideau Pines Farms in North Gower.

Farms supply high-end restaurants

Vandenberg's farm specializes in fruits and vegetables and supplies many high-end restaurants around Ottawa.

He took drastic measures to save his crops last July.

"We have a holding pond, which is fed by a creek, that creek dried up in June", explained Vandenberg, "Then we went through one-million and half gallons of water in July, then we shipped in water trucks for our fall planting."

Many crops failed across the region in last year's drought, especially plants used by livestock for grazing. Farmers then rushed to buy hay and corn to supplement the lack of grass, causing market prices to triple by the fall.

Farmers are 'eternal optimists'

Inventory levels are still low today, so the price hasn't come back down, said cow farmer Jeff Hamilton.

"The demand for hay is quite high already," said Hamilton. "So that puts the price at a fair good premium right now."  

Farmers say they are keeping an ear on weather forecasts and right now they are hearing predictions of another hot and dry season.

Hamilton said that hasn't dampened his expectations for the growing season.

"Farmers are eternal optimists … and it's gonna be a good year," he said.