Eastern Ontario hardest hit by drought: OFA president.
Dry, empty fields at Pinto Valley Ranch provided the backdrop to an Aug. 7 visit by Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales, right. He spoke with ranch owner Ben Jardine, left, and an eastern Ontario OFA director, Eleanor Renaud, centre. The ranch plans to sell 20 of its 48 horses because this year’s hay crop has been severely damaged by the ongoing drought.
Mark Wales has dusty feet. Like he’s been to the beach.
The problem is Wales has just been walking in a farm field; a field so dry that there’s nothing much growing where grass should be knee high or better.
Wales is the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and his Aug. 7 tour of Pinto Valley Ranch near Fitzroy Harbour was nothing but dry and dusty, like much of eastern Ontario.
“It’s been dry virtually everywhere, but eastern Ontario is definitely the worst hit part of the province,” Wales said of the ongoing drought.
He held an ear of corn that almost fit in the palm of his hand as he spoke to reporters at Pinto Valley.
“It’s not worth putting a combine in the field to harvest it,” Wales said of the corn.
Wales – who farms near Alymer, Ont. – said the drought is affecting growers in diverse sectors, including maple syrup producers and Christmas tree growers.
“The maple trees are losing their leaves in early August,” he said, adding that the dry weather will affect next spring’s syrup season.
Right now, anyone growing crops to feed animals is worrying about the coming winter. A number of local farmers who stopped by Pinto Valley for Wales’ visit said they are already feeding this year’s hay to livestock when that food wouldn’t normally be dished out until the winter.
Come December or January, this year’s hay may run out and farmers will have to buy feed or sell livestock. The feed price will be inflated due to the drought’s effect on supply.
“The prices will be high and there simply may not be enough hay,” Wales said.
High feed prices – or complete lack of feed – could prompt beef and milk farmers to sell their animals, but they won’t make much at auction. Wales said farmers in the United States have already started selling cattle because of the effects of drought, so the cattle market is depressed.
“So many farmers are downsizing, (Ontario farmers) will be selling into a declining market,” he said.
HORSES HAVE TO GO
At Pinto Valley, owners Ben and Tracey Jardine plan to sell off nearly half their horses because feeding them has become too difficult. The couple rolls out a couple of hay bales to feed their animals each day and they can do the math: the hay won’t last.
Twenty of the 48 horses at Pinto Valley will have to go.
“We’ll survive,” said Tracey. “It’ll be nip and tuck.”
She said the cutback will have further negative spinoffs, hurting the local horse community.
“If kids don’t try (riding), it affects the whole equine industry,” Tracey said, adding that a number of stables that offered rides for rookies have closed in recent years.
Leo Muldoon has cattle on his Dunrobin Road farm and said he hasn’t seen a summer as dry as this in more than 50 years working the land.
He said most years he grows enough hay to feed his animals through the winter, but he’ll soon be a hay buyer. He’s hopeful a federal farm program will help offset some of the extra costs that lay ahead, but he’s far from certain.
At 23, Kurtis Wilson is the youngest farm operator visiting Pinto Valley Ranch to meet Wales.
Wilson said his father Bill doesn’t remember a year as dry as 2012.
“They’re saying you have to go back to the ’30s to see it this dry,” he said.
Wilson planted some cash crops to go with the usual hay this year, but the drought has cost him almost everything. He made two cuts of hay; the second one just 10 or 20 per cent of the usual volume.
And the third cut?
“Not for me,” Wilson said. “Everything’s brown.”
Wilson said he’s “lost faith” in any government program designed to help farmers after seeing his family lose out when mad cow disease in Canada caused beef cattle prices to plummet.
Wales said crop insurance is the first step for farmers hit by the drought. Farmers with loses not covered by insurance may get assistance from the federal government through the AgriStability program.
Following the stop in West Carleton, Wales planned to visit farms in the Pakenham and Beckwith areas to see the drought’s effects on tree farms, dairy operations and cash crops. The visit was organized by the Arnprior and Lanark branches of the OFA.