EASTERN ONTARIO — Although a little slow to warm up this season, good planting conditions took hold in April. However, one challenge for farmers returning to their fields this spring was contending with high winterkill in their alfalfa stands.
"Everything’s been going well so far. We had a nice shower yesterday," Glengarry County cash-cropper Shawn McRae said April 29.
"The cereals went in, in good condition, on a good calendar date," he said on the telephone from McRae Farms Limited at Bainesville, where 100 acres of oats and 85 acres of barley have gone into the ground this year.
He had also planted about 100 acres of corn, with the balance of the 450-acre operation yet to be seeded with tofu-grade soybeans as well as dry beans.
Pausing his tractor to speak with The AgriNews near the end of last month, Lloyd Crowe, a Reynolds Brothers Farms partner in Picton, suggested the season was slightly behind schedule because of chilly conditions that persisted through much of April.
Lack of heat meant "the ground didn’t dry out quite as fast," Crowe observed. Still, he began planting that all-important 2,000-acre corn crop by the last Monday of the month, primetime from Crowe’s perspective. "This last week in April tends to be a pretty good window for planting corn," said the Ontario Corn Producers vice-president, who was actually at the wheel of tractor towing a low-till implement, ahead of the seeder.
"It’s a good start to the season. It’s supposed to rain tonight, but we’re just hoping it holds off."
In an email, Cumberland-area dairy farmer Bert Molenaar suggested this year’s planting season is actually just normal but "seems early" on fresh memories of 2008’s wet spring.
Gilles Quesnel, crops specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, commented, "Overall, I would say the ground is warming up quite well. And I would say, on the whole, probably 75 per cent of spring cereals are planted."
He also estimated the region’s corn crop to be about 30 per cent planted.
Crop development is a few days behind the average at this stage, because of the cool and dry conditions earlier in April. "There was a period in April where we received very little precipitation," he pointed out.
Most of the fertilizer and manure application has also occurred, he said.
As for those hay fields, he reported a winterkill rate of 60 per cent, "the dark spot in the whole picture this season."
"On the whole, last year’s alfalfa seedings survived better than the older fields," he noted, adding he advises farmers to carefully assess their alfalfa fields now, and prepare to rotate them into another crop if necessary. See Quesnel’s article in the OMAFRA Update in this month’s edition of The AgriNews for winterkill strategies.