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Canada's top ten weather stories of 2013

3. Bumper Crops in the West, So-So for the Rest

Figure 3a. Map of Canada. Click for large map.

Farmers rarely describe the weather as perfect. And for good reason!  The growing season is long and the weather can quickly turn bad any time between seeding and harvesting. In the West, the growing season wasn’t perfect this year but it came pretty darn close with usually cautious food producers describing it as incredible, unbelievable, stupendous, bin-busting and the best in a lifetime. Heading eastward, the growing season was more of a rollercoaster – some crop yields were up and some were down with plenty of challenges in between.

A golden field of harvested hay

The growing season in the West didn’t start with much promise given the long, drawn-out winter and a cool, wet start to spring. While flooding was not widespread, soil was cold and saturated leaving field work three weeks behind. By late August, the season was back on track due to an absence of scorching temperatures and drought. Soil moisture was also good to excellent throughout the season. And, in sharp contrast to last year, severe weather was localized and less frequent. In fact, the Canadian Crop Hail Association reported that, compared to 2012, crop hail claims were down by one-third in Alberta and two-thirds in Saskatchewan. During the last half of July and first half of August very cool temperatures and adequate rains benefitted crops that were mostly in the reproductive growth stage.Farmers pulled off a record crop owing to ideal growing weather and perfect ripening and drying conditions. September temperatures were among the warmest in history. Further, there was no killing frost and zero snowfall at harvest, with only a touch of frost in the middle of September that caused minimal damage given that most crops had matured. By the end of September the harvest was 85 per cent complete; by Thanksgiving it was all wrapped up. Statistics Canada forecasted that western farmers harvested a record 30.5 million tonnes of wheat in 2013. In some areas, durum yields were 20 bushels above grower’s historical bests. Both yield and quality were superb; prices not so much! This year’s grain harvest was so large that some farmers had to pile grain on the ground because their bins were bursting and silage bags were sold out.

In British Columbia, long stretches of dry, sunny weather and warm days without scorching highs and cool nights produced some of the largest and sweetest berries on record and a fantastic vintage in the winery. In Kelowna, for example, days with afternoon temperatures below 30°C and nights above 10°C numbered 64, which is twice the ideal thermal combination seen in recent years. The only blemish was a brief hail storm on September 29 that bruised apples still on trees and stored on the ground in open bins.

Field of hay

In Ontario and Quebec, yields were sweet for maple syrup producers – a vast improvement over last year’s abbreviated season hurt by record March warmth. Ontario apple producers were equally thrilled as they rebounded dramatically from a horrible growing season in 2012 when frost and severe weather wiped out about 80 per cent of the crop and pushed some growers out of business. But farmers in southwestern Ontario were on a bit of a ride depending on where and what they farmed. Some fields either received too much rain or just enough; a touch of early frost or none at all. That left some farmers having to replant three times after rain washed out the first two plantings, losing a whole month to weather. And the drenching continued into summer as some locations, including Windsor and Toronto, experienced their wettest month ever in July. Vast hectares of vegetables and wheat drowned from root rot. In Essex County, tomato crops were reduced by 25 per cent due to heavy rains. Another concern was the once-promising wheat crop. Plants lay flat because root systems couldn’t support the stalks, making the wheat unharvestable. And fusarium appeared making contaminated crops unfit for human and animal consumption. More wetness in October hurt the edible bean crop and made it nearly impossible to plant next year’s winter wheat. In the end, yields and quality were variable from crop to crop and area to area, but ideal finishing-up weather between September 22 and October 5 saved farmers with a better harvest than expected.

Quebec food producers also faced variable conditions for much of the growing season, but in the end crop yields were near or slightly below historical averages. The growing season started early with some welcomed warmth in the first week of May, but cool and very wet conditions for the remainder of the month and into June “dampened” the enthusiasm of farmers. Warm and fair weather in July helped to recuperate what was lost in late May and June, however, a cool wet August again hindered crop development. September was more or less near normal followed by a great October that helped crops reach maturity on time.

Across the Maritimes, the growing season began early but weeks of cool and very wet weather in May, June and July slowed progress. Late pollination was a problem and excessive spring rains forced growers to replant, while others dealt with water erosion. It was even too cool and wet for bees to do their work. One potato grower in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick said he couldn’t remember worse planting and growing conditions. Seeds and seed pieces rotted in the mud. Strawberry producers also fretted over rain-soaked patches. In Fredericton, it was the wettest July on record – more than two and a half times the normal amount of rain. Even worse, the growing season between May and August had 170 per cent more rain than normal making it the wettest May to August in over 130 years. In Nova Scotia, it wasn’t so much the amount of rain but the long stretch of damp, grey skies. Between the second week of May and the end of June, it rained on over 40 of 50 days. Only PEI bucked the trend, with every month between April and October warmer than normal and the total April to October rainfall just two-thirds of normal amounts. Across the region, a long stretch of sunny warm weather in September and October was ideal for crop growth and harvesting. Potato growers enjoyed some of the finest weather in years as they completed the fall harvest on time. The apple harvest was a week early and quality was especially good for fruit size and coloration. Further, the absence of tropical storm weather ensured the apples stayed on the trees until ripened and picked.

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