Big per-acre corn yield offset by disease: GFO

Corn is loaded into a truck near Sarnia on Nov. 15. (Louis Pin/Postmedia Network)

Share Adjust Comment Print

A tumultuous year for Ontario corn continued this week when Agricorp confirmed what had been suspected since late last summer: the 2018 corn crop should have been a boon for cash crop farmers.

Instead, a cold, rainy fall lead to a mould-causing infestation that proved costly, though not as catastrophic as feared late last year. That’s in part due to high yields as shown in data published by Agricorp in late March.

The crop insurance agency said Ontario corn farmers saw an average yield of 183 bushels an acre, up from the 10-year average of 170 bushels an acre. The highest yields were reported in Chatham-Kent and Oxford County, with some reporting more than 240 bushels per acre.

“It would have been a very good year, even though prices have been trending flat or downwards,” Rob Gamble, chief economist with the Grain Farmers of Ontario, said. “A lot of farmers were looking forward to a good yield. Because of the DON (deoxynivalenol), they still had what they’d (consider) a below-average year.”

Large patches of Lambton County reported poor yields, along with a number of places in nearby Elgin County.

Grain farmers were not exactly hung out to dry when news broke about widespread deoxynivalenol, or vomitoxin. Last fall, the provincial government reimbursed some testing and announced funding for better crop preservation going forward. Farmers were given different avenues through which they could sell corn with higher volumes of DON.

Agricorp’s salvage benefit plan will be enhanced next year as well, to account for challenges dealing with high levels of DON. The higher the level of DON, the more insurance Agricorp will pay out for 2019 crops — anywhere from 52 cents per bushel to $1.08 per bushel.

This wasn’t as bad as some farmers are making it out to seem, Frank Backx, a grain merchandiser in the Chatham-Kent area, said.

“Definitely the higher yields have helped gross income,” Backx said. “I don’t think the corn farmer took that big a hit, especially those with high crop insurance. If they had high vomitoxin or DON, they got paid that (salvage benefit) per bushel, which would have helped quite a bit.

“It doesn’t cover all of it, but it helps.”

Those to suffer the biggest hit, Backx said, were those without crop insurance. Livestock farmers, especially pork farmers, may have been forced to pay more for their feed in the absence of clean Ontario corn.

A representative with Ontario pork confirmed the organization was keeping an eye on the DON situation but said there had been few, if any, concerns raised by Ontario pork farmers.

Many Ontario farmers affected by high levels of DON are still trying to sell their product, usually at a discounted rate. Insurance claim periods were extended by Agricorp earlier this year. As of mid-March, roughly $45 million in claims had been submitted by Ontario farmers.

“If I had to sum up the season in one word, I’d say it was disappointing,” Gamble said.

Correction: an earlier version of this story stated the enhanced salvage benefit will apply for 2018 crops. That is not the case. The enhanced salvage benefit will only come into effect next year. The Observer regrets the error.