A tough, dry growing season N.B. pastures not expected to recover

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by Dan Woolley

Crop conditions across Atlantic Canada in late August were extremely variable, ranging from nearly normal to almost drought-stricken.

Pastures are very dry in New Brunswick and, despite recent rains, are not expected to recover at this point, Mike Bouma told Farm Focus. The Agricultural Alliance of N.B. president said farmers had to start feeding their recently-cut forage earlier than usual. And he expects that hay will be scarce this winter.

Bouma said it has been hard for producers to make hay this summer because of the high humidity that accompanied the high temperatures. N.B. hay quality is down, the yield is light, and there is an increased possibility of mildew.

Corn has done well because of the high temperatures, particularly when it has been irrigated, Bouma said. Producers on heavy clay soils are not having as many crop problems as those on sandy loam.

Growers are complaining that because of the dry weather, they will be harvesting smaller potatoes than they like, he said. Bouma also anticipated the yield from this year’s Wild blueberry harvest will be down.

Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture President Chris van den Heuvel said it had been extremely dry for June, July, and early August across most of the central and western sections of the province until two recent rains. He heard complaints from dairy farmers in those two areas that the second and third cut of forage was almost non-existent. “Anyone who can’t irrigate is extremely impacted.”

Yet, the rainfall in Cape Breton was normal except for a dry spell in early August.

P.E.I. Potato Board Manager Greg Donald said because of the dry July weather, when evapotranspiration from the plant canopy was at its peak, it appears the harvest of early varieties will be light. He conceded that the condition of the crop was getting critical in some areas of the province until timely mid-August rains. Late potato varieties are “still in growth mode,” and their condition will not be known until they are harvested at the end of September, said Donald.

Robert Godfrey hoped for more rain as the later potato varieties continue sizing into early September. Ground conditions were still very dry, the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture executive-director said, but “the later varieties, such as Russet Burbank, should be okay.”

Godfrey said growers could use more rain, as a very high percentage of the 600,000 acres of P.E.I. potato fields are not irrigated by high-capacity wells. Over a month ago, the province lifted restrictions on extraction of water from surface water sources, he said.

Nova Scotia vegetable and berry growers have been struggling since June to keep their crops growing, according to Horticulture N.S. President Josh Oulton. Dry conditions have placed increased demands on the producers’ time– not only the need to increase irrigation, but also increase weed control as weeds are well-adapted to dry weather. “On our farm we had to make choices about what to do and what not to do because we didn’t have the people to keep up with all the things we had to do. Hopefully, things will be better in the fall.”

Oulton observed that some of the long-established growers are better off than new farmers. “They have the infrastructure in place, while younger farmers have had it harder because they don’t have the irrigation capability.”

He hoped the 70 mm of rain the Annapolis Valley received over three days in mid-August will size up the crops that are still in the ground.

Oulton said 2016 was a hard year for crop management. Field crops need at least one-inch of rainfall weekly, but farmers went five weeks in a row without any precipitation and had to go further to access water for their fields. They also had to contend with frequent windy days early in the summer, which made it hard to precisely target irrigation spray and avoid wasting water through drift. He added that windy days will also quickly dry out an irrigated field.

Water availability as farm pond levels fell presented a big concern this summer for tree fruits, Perennia Tree Fruit Specialist Chris Duyvelshoff said. Orchard growers had to increase irrigation of recently planted young trees due to their shallow and immature roots.

Mature trees had a “good recovery of moisture” with a very good rain on Aug. 16, he said. “Another couple of inches would be beneficial.”

Duyvelshoff said there is concern that the long dry spell will mean a harvest of smaller-size fruit in the fall. If that happens, “The fruit will be sweeter, so there is a trade-off for a small loss in size.”

This summer’s dry weather was not a big concern in Newfoundland and Labrador. Central and western sections of the province had “a fabulous growing season,” according to Nfld & Lab. Federation of Agriculture Director Chris Oram. “It is dry right now; but there is no severe drought stress in our crops,” he said.

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