Pearce: Ontario crop conditions a tale of two scenarios

A close-up of emerging corn seedlings north of London, Ont. on May 24, 2016. (Ralph Pearce photo)

When it comes to getting a handle on current crop conditions in Ontario, it really depends on who you ask.

Conditions and progress in the southern portion of the province vary — some considerably — compared to those in eastern Ontario, particularly where it comes to planting corn and soybeans. If there’s one common theme for both areas, it’s that most growers would like to see some rain in the coming week.

Across much of southern Ontario, the winter wheat crop is the outstanding story at this point of the season, with lush growth and a healthy overall grading from advisers, extension personnel and retailers. Based on figures from Agricorp, it’s estimated that growers managed to plant about one million acres of winter wheat in 2015 (800,000 acres insured, with an assumed 200,000 uninsured).

Of course, appearances can be deceiving with winter wheat; the “windshield survey” often hides problems deeper in the canopy, from phosphorus or sulphur deficiencies to drainage issues.

“But we’re really nitpicking and trying to find faults because the wheat crop does look terrific,” said Alan McCallum, an independent certified crop adviser from Iona Station, southwest of London. Most of the wheat he’s seen hasn’t grown too tall, he said, likely due to the cooler spring temperatures in the south thus far.

“In a lot of cases, it’s reaching the flag-leaf stage, and it’s a pretty good-looking crop — the disease pressure is pretty low.”

As for corn and soybean planting, the cool start to the spring has delayed that task so far this season.

“In my immediate area, there’s still a decent percentage of corn yet to be planted,” McCallum said. “The clay soils were still pretty tacky down at two and three inches, and there are pockets around the region that still have a ways to go on corn planting.”

A few soybean fields planted earlier in May were germinating following sufficient rains late during the week of May 9 and early the following week.

Eastern Ontario

In the east, the conditions are almost reversed. By the end of last week, corn planting was expected to be all but complete, with soybeans at roughly 70 to 75 per cent finished before the holiday weekend. It’s been a fast start, but some concerns that come with those ideal conditions, said Paul Hermans.

“The two-week forecast is dry, with hardly anything here,” said Hermans, DuPont Pioneer’s agronomist for eastern Ontario and the Maritimes. “My only concern right now is that conditions are so dry, and I hope the growers that did this last bit of planting got their seed into moisture.”

He’s also interested in watching earlier-planted fields for any signs of delayed emergence or damage caused by last week’s cold snaps across much of the province.

— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont. Follow him at @arpee_AG on Twitter.

ontario wheat
(Resource News International) -- The size of Canada's cattle herd has declined steadily in recent years, and could continue to do so as the current economic downturn has thrown a wrench in the recovery process, according to an official with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. "It's pretty clear that supplies of cattle in North America are at relatively low levels," said Travis Toews, vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and a cow-calf producer in Alberta's Peace River region. Following the initial discovery of BSE in the Canadian cattle herd in 2003, and the subsequent restrictions placed on Canadian beef and cattle moving into many markets, the country has seen a steady exodus of producers. While the country has since regained access to many markets, high feed costs and the stronger Canadian dollar have continued to make it difficult to make money in the Canadian cattle sector, said Toews. Compounding that is the recessionary environment, which has led to a decline in demand for the higher-end cuts of meat, said Toews. Given the low supply numbers in Canada and the U.S., analysts see cattle industry pricing recovering as North America moves out of its recession, said Toews. However, nobody knows the timing of the recovery. In terms of the supply/demand equilibrium, "we likely won't see really meaningful improvements in pricing until North America starts moving out of its recession," said Toews. Generally speaking, he said, the more competitive operations are currently "treading water at best," while operations that aren't quite as competitive are losing money. Middle meats "We don't' have an oversupply problem, but we have a slack demand for the middle meats, which are the high-valued parts of the animal," said Toews. "As long as pricing remains really soft, I think we'll see the herd continue to shrink. "The longer it stays difficult, the more our supplies will shrink. So when demand does turn around, it will have a larger effect." While much hinges on the economic recovery, Toews said other factors would also help improve the profitability of the Canadian cattle sector. For example, Canada would benefit from expanded market access to a number of key countries. Japan, for instance, currently only allows boneless beef from cattle under 21 months of age, and a move to bone-in beef from cattle under 30 months would be helpful, said Toews. Mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) rules in the U.S. have reduced the demand from U.S. packers and livestock buyers for Canadian cattle, and that creates a further complication for the Canadian sector, Toews said, noting a World Trade Organization case was currently in the works. While there are problems to overcome, Toews said it was not all doom and gloom for Canadian cattle producers. "For those of us in the business, that are continuing in the business, we believe that there are better days ahead, or we wouldn't continue," said Toews. There are still new entrants into the business, he said, while others are expanding their operations as they can benefit from a lower cost structure than operations that expanded when the Canadian dollar was weaker. Statistics Canada will release its biannual livestock inventory report, as of Jan. 1, 2010, on Feb. 16, providing detailed information on the size of the country's cattle herd.

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