Essex County farmers will lose millions in worst planting season

Most of the region's farm land is used to grow grain corn and soybeans and many of those farmers like Leo Guilbeault haven't been able to plant a single seed.

A flooded field on South Malden Rd. is pictured Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Dax Melmer / Windsor Star

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Essex County’s farmers will lose millions of dollars this year in the worst planting season in memory.

Most of the region’s farm land is used to grow grain corn and soybeans and many of those farmers like Leo Guilbeault haven’t been able to plant a single seed.

“It’s the worst year for corn or soybeans as far as anybody can remember,” Guilbeault, who farms in the Belle River area, said Wednesday. “There’ll be millions of dollars lost across Essex County for sure.”

That’s not even counting the impact of months of rain on other farmers such as vegetable growers who also struggled to get on soggy fields with equipment.

The Agricorp insurance deadline to plant grain corn was extended by two days to Monday (June 17) but few farmers had land dry enough to take advantage of that.

Less than 20 per cent of corn or soybeans got “mudded in” during less than ideal conditions, he said.

Now local farmers have to hope they get a week of sunshine to plant as many acres of soybeans as they can by July 5, the deadline to have them insured.

An aerial view of agricultural land sitting idle due to the long wet spring, is pictured Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Dax Melmer / Windsor Star

To understand the stress farmers are under think about working for a year without getting paid and then potentially having to fork over tens of thousands of dollars on top of that to your employer.

Growers “forward contract,” which means they enter into a contract to get a better price but if they can’t deliver that corn at harvest they have to pay the difference between the contract price and what is now a higher price because of planting issues in the U.S. corn belt, with Ohio behind the most on corn planting.

On large farms that could be tens of thousands of dollars to more than $100,000 to pay up without a crop, explained Stoney Point farmer Maurice Chauvin.

It’s the worst year for corn or soybeans as far as anybody can remember

He won’t be out much, maybe a few thousand dollars, because he was fortunate and didn’t decide to forward contract as much corn as usual, he said.

Planting so late will likely mean reduced yields in a shorter growing season, it messes up the crop rotation and it’s stressful for farmers who have watched the rain ruin their plans for two months.

“Most of the guys are getting pretty down in the dumps,” said Chauvin. “When you’ve got all this money invested and you’re waiting to get the crop in the ground and you can’t, when it’s all out of your control it weighs pretty heavy on a lot of guys.”

There is unseeded acreage insurance for farmers who have crop insurance but it won’t add up to much.

Grain farmers in much of southwestern Ontario had similar issues including farmers around London in Middlesex and Elgin counties and growers in Chatham-Kent and Lambton County. The crop insurance extension applied to counties in southwestern Ontario and up along Lake Ontario.

“Across the province it will be a large issue,” said Essex farmer Brendan Byrne, who is a director and vice chairman of the Grain Farmers of Ontario. “Even some of the areas where they’ve been fortunate to get going and get planting, there’s a lot of them that still have 20 to 25 per cent of their acres to finish up.”

It’s too early to know how much won’t get planted and the financial impact of what will likely go down as the worst corn planting season in Ontario, said Byrne who farms about 1,300 acres and has nothing planted.

He said it’s “very bizarre” to see only weeds in the fields across much of Essex County.

But Byrne said farmers are a resilient bunch.

Essex County Federation of Agriculture President Lyle Hall expects a mad rush to plant as many soybeans as possible in the next two weeks. That could push the soybean harvest to October and November.

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Since late April and May, grain growers on clay soils have needed about a week without rain to get the land dry enough to plant.

“I can’t remember four days without rain,” Hall said.

It’s been so wet in parts of Ontario and the United States that farmers are commiserating on social media with the hashtag NoPlant19 and NoPlant2019. Guilbeault said it’s a way to share their experiences and know they’re not alone in this.

The only year that some farmers can remember that came close to this was 1969 and they still got on the fields to plant that year, Guilbeault said.

“I’ve talked to farmers who have been farming 60, 70 years and they’ve never seen anything like this.”

shill@postmedia.com

twitter.com/winstarhill

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