To save their crops, Norfolk County farmers are splurging on irrigation and praying for rain
City dwellers wondering what effect the recent drought has had on area farms need look no further than their front yards.
“A lot of people’s lawns are dry right now, and that’s very atypical in June and early July. Usually they’re still green, and in August you get the brown one,” said Simcoe produce grower Sarah Judd.
“So that’s an indication that we haven’t had enough rain, which certainly has an impact on overall production.”
Virtually every agricultural field in Norfolk County that still looks green and healthy has received help.
The Judds watered their strawberries regularly to extend the pick-your-own season and ensure that the young plants needed for future harvests would survive throughout the year.
“The corn crop is good, but that’s only because we’re spending a fortune on diesel to pump water,” said sweet corn farmer Charles Welsh.
“If we hadn’t irrigated, they would look really rough.”
Lack of moisture has weakened a cherry harvest that is short even at the best of times.
“The sour cherry crop is light,” said Simcoe fruit grower Brett Schuyler, adding that his apple orchards don’t look any worse so far.
But, he said, “everything would benefit from a little rain.”
Mother Nature usually steps in to keep fields well hydrated, but dry weather this spring has placed that responsibility on farmers, which can mean higher prices for consumers.
“(Irrigation) adds more cost to food production because we have to spend money to power the pumps to irrigate and we have to move the irrigation pipe, which is labor intensive” , explained Judd.
That may not happen this year, but Welsh said at some point the price of sweet corn will have to rise for farmers to recoup those extra expenses.
Skies opened up over rain-starved fields earlier in the week, but farmers wished the downpour had lasted a bit longer.
“It was very welcome,” Judd said of the brief rain. “Unfortunately, we don’t have as many as we would like. We were hoping for this heavy rain.
It rained on Friday afternoon and there is rain in the forecast for early next week, but Welsh said his cornfields could use more than just scattered showers.
“It would make a big difference, if we get that natural rain,” he said.
“I think everyone is in the same boat, especially in Norfolk County. We need a lot of water on our sandy soil to maintain quality (of crops), so everyone irrigates. And it’s really expensive right now with the cost of fuel.
Judd said her perennial crops like rhubarb and asparagus have done well and she doesn’t expect any shortages among the field and greenhouse crops that end up in the food boxes she sells to consumers. members of its Community Supported Agriculture program.
But cash crops like hay, soybeans and field corn — which aren’t usually irrigated because their already low margins don’t justify the extra expense — can have lower yields.
“It will be interesting to see. There are definitely cultures that are stressed,” Judd said.
“Other things could still go well, because we still have a lot of season ahead of us.”