Toronto

Southern Ontario farmers feeling the heat due to hot, dry summer

The hot, dry summer is "concerning" for farmers in southern Ontario who are predicting lower yields and higher prices as they wait for rain.

Mild drought conditions could mean higher prices and lower selection on market shelves

Sun worshippers may be basking in the heat and humidity hitting southern Ontario, but in rural communities, the hot, dry summer weather means fields of thirsty crops, and barren pastures for livestock.

Heat warnings are in effect for most of southern Ontario, and conservation authorities are asking residents and businesses to reduce their water usage due to low water levels in lakes and rivers across much of the province.

That's taking a toll on meat and produce during the critical growing season.

Pat Kozowyk with Baba Link Organic Farm in Hamilton said her fruit trees are already showing signs of stress.

"The fruit is spotty or there's less of it, it's just not happy."

She's expecting a 30 to 50 per cent lower yield than last year, and says that may mean less selection on farmer's market shelves.

"Peaches and some of the plums are not as happy as they could be. Grapes, however, are happier than ever."

And while some farmers can irrigate, she relies on a well.

"I'm just hoping for rain," she said.

Environment Canada said last month, only 26.4 millimetres of rain fell on the city of Toronto in June, down from the usual 71.5.

Drought challenging for livestock farmers

Sarah Bakker raises pasture-fed meat with Field Sparrow Farms in Kawartha Lakes, near Peterborough, Ont.

The lack of rain means as her animals graze, the grass is not growing back as quickly.

"Grass is fairly resilient, which is one of the reasons we use it, but I think if we don't have any really good rain by August, we're going to see some serious challenges."

The cost of raising the meat is likely to go up as well.

Bakker fears she may have to turn to hay as feed earlier than usual and that will mean they'll have to buy more, at a higher cost due to the demand.

"What will possibly happen, if farmers can't afford to feed their animals, because they fed all their hay in August, they'll sell them, and the price of beef will drop which is good, to a point, for the average consumer, but it will spike again because our supply has gone out. "

That's what happened in 2012, when Bakker had to bring water in for the animals, and she had to start feeding hay months earlier than usual.

This year, she's expanded her chicken operation to adapt to the lack of rain.

She says the next few weeks are critical to determine if there is going to be a long-term affect.

Environment Canada is predicting a hot July and August and while there is rain in the short-term forecast across much of southern Ontario, forecasters say it's difficult to predict precipitation in the long-term.

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