P.E.I. corn farmers hoping for disaster relief after Dorian damage

Some P.E.I. corn farmers say the damage to their crop is substantial due to post-tropical storm Dorian and it has delayed their harvest. The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture is starting to build a case for disaster relief.

'We're finding that we've had a lot of kernel damage on the side of the cob that the wind hit'

Randy Drenth looks over the damage to his corn field from post-tropical storm Dorian. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Damage from post-tropical storm Dorian has caused major damage to P.E.I.'s corn fields, prompting the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture to start building a case for disaster relief.

The high winds and pelting rains snapped corn stalks and stilted the development of those cobs still left upright.

Randy Drenth, who has about 50 hectares of corn in Summerfield, P.E.I., originally thought his yield would be down at least 10 to 15 per cent.

"At that time, we found a lot of corn was pushed over, it was leaning pretty far over, we had some root damage and some stalks were broken off," Drenth said.

"We probably saw damage on 70 or 80 per cent of the crop, but I would say most of it looked like it would be able to recover from it."

Randy Drenth says he's finding a lot of this kind of kernel damage on the side of the cob that the wind hit. (Randy Drenth/Twitter)

Drenth said 15 to 20 per cent of the corn looked really bad and there was a lot of damage to the leaves, which were quite shredded.

He hasn't started to harvest his corn yet, and estimates the damage has delayed that by two to three weeks. Drenth said he thinks many farmers will now be harvesting into late December.

That's not the only bad news.

"Now we're finding that we've had a lot of kernel damage on the side of the cob that the wind hit," Drenth said.

"The combination of the wind and rain hitting the corncob actually made some kernels abort and some of them are quite a bit smaller than they should be."

This is what one of Randy Drenth's fields looked like after Dorian. (Randy Drenth)

He's not alone. Robert Godfrey, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, said he's been hearing from corn producers across the Island about reduced yield and other costs they are incurring as they try to harvest their crop. 

He said the damage has reduced the yield, and increased the time needed to harvest the corn.

The federation is collecting information from farmers about the extent of the damage and the extra costs, to make a case for disaster relief.

Dairy farmers worry the damaged corn harvest will increase their feed costs and impact the quality of feed they're able to provide their cattle. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"We're not talking just yield loss, we're talking extra time and harvesting, extra time and labour," Godfrey said.

He said he expects to finish gathering that information by December, then his group will take it to the provincial government. It will then be up to the province to apply for federal relief — however there is no guarantee that will happen, he said.

"We're preaching patience to people who have been affected by this because it's going to take time whether we're successful or not," said Godfrey. If assistance is approved, he said it would likely be next year before any farmers got financial aid.

Drenth says the side of the corn that took the brunt of Dorian seems to have shut those kernels down. (Randy Drenth/Twitter)

Lower quality

Godfrey said the federation is also hearing from P.E.I. livestock producers worried about the impact on their feed rations and feed availability.

That includes Drenth who uses the corn he grows to feed his cattle, so it will need to be dried after it is harvested, and that is also going to be a problem because of Dorian.

"The fact that our maturity's behind is going to be a bigger problem for us because the harvest moistures are higher, which means we have to spend more money to dry the corn down and that also usually means a lower-quality product at the end."

Drenth is seeing a 'significant difference in kernel depth from one side of the cob to the other.' (Randy Drenth/Twitter)

From what he is seeing, Drenth said the quality of silage corn is also going to be down this year, and with other grains in tight supply, that's going to cause issues for livestock producers as well, with the possibility of higher costs and reduced quality of feed.

"It's going to be a very challenging year for anybody feeding cattle," Drenth said.

Need more time to harvest

Drenth is keeping a close eye on the weather as he still needs another month to harvest.

"The weather going forward is pretty critical now as well because it's not quite ready for harvest," Drenth said. 

"If the weather gets wet, or if we start getting snow, with the corn leaning over, that will knock it right into the ground and it won't be harvestable at all. So this could turn into a huge disaster if things don't go the right way."

The damage from Dorian will now have a ripple effect for livestock producers, who may face a shortage of feed this winter. (Julien LeCacheur/CBC)

Drenth has been in contact with government officials.

"The faster the government can work on those things the better," Drenth said.

"But I understand that they need to do their assessments to fully know what the impacts are before they can really step in as well."

Corn farmer Randy Drenth uses his crop in the mix he feeds his dairy cattle. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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