Early spring, dry spring?

AAFC Drought Map, showing abnormally dry conditions (Feb 29) across much of Southern Ontario

Hmmm. Another warm dry March – I remember one of those in 2012.
    

I remember the “backward” spring of 2012. An unseasonably warm March where bees emerged early with nothing to eat, and a late frost devastated flowering crops. Then it got dry. Remember the news clippings back to July of 2012? 

“A catastrophic freeze earlier this year has apparently wiped out about 80 per cent of the apple crop in Ontario. Now the drought is exacerbating the issue.” Weeks of drought have turned much of Ontario’s prime agricultural land into a dust bowl. And it is corn farmers, especially in the southwest and eastern parts of the province, who have been the hardest hit.”    ~ CBC News, July 2012
  

It’s hard to predict future weather and I hold little stead in long term forecasts; the Old Farmers Almanac had called for March 2016 to be two degrees below normal, but that is wrong by all accounts. However, I do hold more confidence in the major weather patterns and ocean temperature impacts, such as the undeniable fact that this year’s El Nino pattern held the jetstream northwards. This winter, Ontario looked straight south for its weather patterns as warm damp air from the Gulf of Mexico flowed up through Kentucky and Tennessee bringing “new water” to the Great Lakes basin.
    

The Weather Network is predicting that “across the Great Lakes region, we expect a trend towards drier than normal weather, especially during late spring. While there will be sufficient moisture to start the growing season, this trend towards warm and dry weather could be cause for concern for agriculture as we head towards summer.” They go on to say that, “it is still too early to know whether this summer will be remembered as truly hot and dry, or just warmer than the past few summers.”
    

When I mentioned the 2012 growing season to Simon French of Cookstown Greens recently, his eyes widened, he looked at me and said “I did not get much sleep that summer […] I’m getting too old for this.”
    

We have gotten off pretty easy the last three summers as far as irrigation goes, only needing to water a few times each year for most crops, but we can never tell what will happen this year. On some farms there may have been a complete staff turnover since 2012, and the more experienced among us may have to give a refresher course or two on what it really means to irrigate when Mother Nature does not co-operate.
    

Long nights staffing irrigation systems, running pumps hard, hauling diesel to the pump yet again, burned out motors and bearings – yep, I remember the summer of 2012. Never before have so many stared at a rain gauge after any sort of passing shower, and never before has that 1/8 inch mattered so much. And the question on my mind every morning? 
    

“Did the pond level bounce up at all?”
    

I know many growers made significant changes to their farms after 2012, converting many beds to drip, with greater use of mulch and cover crops, enlarging ponds and storages and taking better advantage of systems to re-capture water within the system. As we look toward what might be a long hard irrigation season, it behooves us to wander through the shed and review our inventories of pipe and replacement parts and their condition. Meet with your suppliers to review your needs. Has the farm grown, crops or layouts changed since 2012? Has your equipment inventory kept up with changes to the farm? 
    

Find out whether there is access to enough equipment if you really need to water hard – take a look at Katie Gibb’s irrigation assessments article entitled “Splish Splash I Was Takin a Bath Until I Optimized My Irrigation System” on B3 – and carefully measure your water application patterns to determine if you are getting an even distribution across the field. You might have gotten away with a non-uniform 
coverage pattern in recent wet years, but in a dry year, uneven coverage can leave some areas dry and your crop quantity and quality might suffer when the irrigation system is providing the majority of the crop’s water needs. 
    

Let’s hope our recent warm winter is not the start of a major trend and that we have a “normal summer,” but as an industry that needs water every week, we better be prepared when Mother Nature needs a little helping hand. 
    

Cheers to a good growing season. 
  

If you have any comments on this story or any Farm & Food Care projects, please contact  Bruce@farmfoodcare.org or (519) 837-1326 x292. 

 

Publish date: 
Thursday, March 31, 2016

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