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Justin Baresich harvests the family's soy bean crop near Newbury, Ont., on Sunday, October 7, 2012. (Dave Chidley for The Globe and Mail)
Justin Baresich harvests the family's soy bean crop near Newbury, Ont., on Sunday, October 7, 2012. (Dave Chidley for The Globe and Mail)

agriculture

The ups and downs of this year’s harvest Add to ...

On Lynn Jacobson’s farm near Enchant, Alta., there were a few things to be thankful for this harvest. Canola prices were up, putting him a little further ahead than last year. The sun, meanwhile, shone bright throughout the fall.

“We had good weather all the way through,” he said. “We finished earlier than we usually do.”

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His operation, about 200 kilometres southeast of Calgary, is representative of the province this season. Farmers got more money for their crops than in past years, but those better prices were a symptom of troubles elsewhere.

The drought that battered the Midwestern United States also hit parts of Ontario, causing hay to wither and stunting the growth of corn.

“I’ve never seen the field corn in such a poor shape,” said Bert Andrews, who has farmed in Halton region, west of Toronto, since 1980. Farmers took advantage of an early spring to get their corn in the ground sooner than usual, he said. But by the time the crop flowered, the weather had turned dry.

Sweet corn, which Mr. Andrews planted six times over the course of the year, is doing better. On Sunday, his field was full of the last crop of the season.

This year was rough on the province’s fruit, especially in the early going: that early spring was followed by a sudden return to cooler temperatures. As a result, between 50 to 80 per cent of apple, peach, pear and cherry crops were lost, said Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Wheat, barley, oats and other grains, however, did better.

It was a similar story in British Columbia, where rain caused fungi to grow, damaging strawberry and raspberry crops in the spring. But the situation improved in recent weeks, with the sun shining brightly across the fruit belt.

“This warm, dry weather we’ve had has been great for the direct marketers, the you-pick guys,” said Reg Ens of the B.C. Agriculture Council.

The heat, however, has a potential downside, he said: in the province’s wheat-producing Peace River region, farmers worry that the lack of fall rain will leave the ground dry and bode ill for next year’s crop.

Mr. Ens isn’t the only one turning his attention to the coming months, now that this year’s harvest is nearly done. Norm Hall, who farms a couple hours east of Saskatoon, is concerned that the lack of hay in Ontario could hurt its livestock over the course of the coming winter, prompting farmers to sell off animals.

Mr. Hall is so concerned, in fact, that he’s helping organize an effort to ship hay from the Prairies. It’s both a repayment for a similar project a decade ago – when farmers from central Canada helped out their western brethren – and an investment in the domestic meat industry.

“If we don’t get enough feed into Ontario, it will affect the breeding stock,” he said. “We could end up buying overseas.”

For Mr. Wales, there were a few reasons for optimism: soybean crops in some places late in the season. A fair amount of rain led to record yields in the far southwest corner of Ontario, while elsewhere, the amount of precipitation fluctuated from farm to farm.

But such variability – an early spring, a dry summer, sporadic rains – could be the greatest worry of all.

“What if this is the new normal? That’s probably the unknown this year. With climate change, you get more extremes,” Mr. Wales said. “But we won’t know until next year.”

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