CHESTERVILLE -- The all-important soybean and corn crops are only a week behind schedule in Eastern Ontario so far. And despite perceptions to the contrary, the number of heat units received still puts the region on target for an average growing season, according to Gilles Quesnel, a field crops specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
"The heat units are basically within the 30-year average. It seems like we've had less because most other years in recent memory have been above average," says Quesnel.
He says crops are slightly behind because of late plantings combined with a large number of cloudy days in June and July.
A particular challenge in 2003 is the winter wheat and late plantings of spring wheat. Both varieties have typically received doses of moisture at precisely the wrong times in the growing cycle this year, causing fusarium growth.
"There is some in the heads," he says of the fungus. "Winter wheat is infected and a lot of the spring wheat planted after May 10 seems to be worse."
To maximize the chances of producing a milling grade crop, he recommends that growers harvest "as soon as it's down to 18 percent moisture," then send it out for drying.
"Bring it off as early as you can."
He advises rushing wheat samples to the feed mill as soon as the combine rolls into the yard, and before harvesting begins.
If the test comes back between 1 and 1.3 percent fusarium, he says the combine operator can make adjustments to drop the number below the one percent threshold and salvage a milling quality crop. By slowing the ground speed and opening up the fan speed, he says, most of the infected kernels, which are lighter, will blow out the rear of the combine.
One or two bushels of good kernels per acre are also lost this way, but that's negligible compared to dropping a grade.
"Right now, the difference between milling and feed-grade wheat is $30 to $60 a tonne."
Overall yields in wheat and oats look to be excellent, while barley is projected to be down significantly, thanks to wet conditions last spring.
"Oats are kind of okay, but there's a bit of smut," he says.
Barring a disastrous early frost, this year's corn crop in Eastern Ontario is projected to be average, again because of moisture levels.
"We're not loaded for a bumper crop because of wet feet."
There has been some evidence of stink bugs in a few stands, "kind of an oddball thing this year," he says, noting that farmers often mistake symptoms of infestation -- onion leafing and off-shoots at the plant base -- with herbicidal damage.
Soybeans, like corn, are progressing well and are inherently better at catching up during a late season anyway, according to Quesnel.
"The crop looks good. We can expect to have some white mould show up, but it will only have a slight impact even if conditions remain damp." He doesn't foresee mould taking a "big bite" of this year's yield.
Concerns over soybean aphids that arrived in Ontario a couple of years ago have largely subsided.
At the time, the critters were so thick in the air and fields of Ontario, they actually delayed a Blue Jays baseball game at Skydome.
Lately, an aphid-monitoring program overseen by Wendy Asbil has found only low levels of the critters in the fields of Eastern Ontario.
During the pod-setting stage, the plants can handle up to 50 aphids per leaf without damage. "We've seen them here and there, but nowhere near that threshold."
The volume of alfalfa on the land is high, but getting it off has been a challenge, Quesnel reports.
While the first half of the first cut in early June was affected by wet conditions, the weather largely cooperated for the remainder of the first cut and the first half of the second. Conditions then took a turn for the worse for hay makers.
"The last couple of weeks have really been tough to get quality hay," he says, and frequent showers are frustrating growers.