Hot, dry weather to limit Ontario corn yields

A hot and dry July in Ontario’s key corn-growing regions has limited yield potential for the province’s 2012-13 corn crop. Some fields have survived the weather, but Ontario’s overall corn yields are expected to fall below trend levels.

About 20 per cent of Ontario’s corn crop has been severely damaged from the heat wave. About another 20 per cent has seen localized precipitation that has provided excellent crop conditions, said Greg Stewart, corn industry program lead with the provincial ag ministry in Guelph.

"The hand-wringing has happened over the 60 per cent of the crop in the middle that’s been getting very little rain," he said.

Rainfall has picked up in August, he added, but corn crops continue to struggle because of a lack of beneficial moisture.

For the most part, the high quality crops have stayed good and the poor crops have remained poor during August. But the mid-quality corn has started to worsen since mid-July, he said.

Stewart expected kernel numbers to be below average on that portion of the crop, with little chance of fully recovering.

"Rain now won’t change the kernel count at all. But rain, particularly on the 60 per cent of the stuff in the middle, can improve kernel size and density," he said.

Most 2012-13 corn yields for Ontario will likely be "moderately down" from trends, he said, adding that typically, the province’s corn producers bring in about 150 bushels per acre.

However, in comparison to the drought in the U.S. Corn Belt, Stewart said, "it’s not the same game at all. We’ve got some areas that have been significantly hit, but the yields will not be nearly as hard hit as some of the worst spots in the States."

"Different feeds"

Reduced corn production in Ontario will also have an effect on cattle farmers in the province. With high costs and limited supplies for Ontario corn, many cattle producers will be looking for alternative feeds, he said.

Oats might be substituted for cattle feed, and even some grain corn might be used to fill demand for silage, he said.

"In a broad sense, it’s not going to be any sort of huge transition for cattle producers," Stewart said. "But certainly in localized areas, they’re going to have to make some switches to different feeds."

Because of the recent precipitation and the variety of heat damage in Ontario corn fields, it’s difficult to determine exactly what kind of yields the province will see this year, said Barry Senft, CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Farmers, he added, won’t know the true extent of the drought "until the combines are out there."

He expected the Ontario corn harvest to take place somewhere between late October and early November.

— Ryan Kessler writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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