Province sees mixed frost damage

After a generally favourable planting season, cold weather and frost in the last week of May brought mixed damage to Ontario’s corn and soybean crop.

Why it matters

Favourable weather conditions in April and May offer excellent seeding conditions – but early seeding can also increase the risk of cold damage and poor emergence.

Growers in the south and central part of the province largely escaped. Many in the east and north, however, did not.

90 per cent frost kill

“We’re at 90 per cent for soybeans. It’s the worst I’ve seen in 35 years,” says Terry Phillips, an agronomist and seed dealer based in the New Liskeard area.

“We maybe get one or two replants a year. This time we got hundreds replanting. Both canola and soybeans too.”

Such unprecedented numbers stem from a combination of multi-night lows reaching minus six to seven degrees Celsius in some areas, as well as early planting. Those who planted after May 19, says Phillips, generally fared better. Crop insurance deadlines for the region have been extended until June 5 in response to replanting needs.

The cold also caused damage to cereals.

“Oats, barley, spring wheat, it just looks like a bad spray issue. The fields are a yellow-orange colour.”

Though widespread, the damage is far from uniform across Phillips’ working region. Somewhat ironically, temperatures managed to hover closer to zero in some areas north of New Liskeard. This helped save some fields, including those seeded with canola. And as a whole, the corn crop in his area also appears to be unscathed.

“The corn seems to be okay. Most was at two-leaf, maybe three-leaf at the earliest. It’s popping up now.”

Not a replanting norm

In some eastern counties, an estimated 10 per cent of soybeans require replanting, according to Paul Hermans, a certified crop advisor and territory manager for Pioneer in the region.

As in the north, it’s largely a result of several successive nights of below zero conditions. Areas within Renfrew, Ottawa-Carlton, Prescott and Russell were the worst hit. Factors such as soil type did not appear to matter.

“I’ve had 24 years with Pioneer and have never seen it this bad,” says Hermans.  He says a two or three per cent replant would normally be enough to furrow concerning brows.

“It’s bad and I don’t want to downplay it, but once in 24 years shows it’s not the norm. It’s not the end of the world.”

Conversely, extra patience at corn planting helped the region’s corn crop remains relatively unscathed, with green leaves and good emergence now visible.

“It doesn’t make it an easier situation, but I’d rather have replanted on beans than corn. With corn I would have probably had to go in and do a herbicide application before replant,” Hermans says.

“From the economic and time management side, at least we were lucky enough the corn wasn’t as far along. If we would have had one week more growth we probably would have had a lot more corn replants.”

Breathing easier

More central parts of the province largely avoided significant damage, though not entirely.

For Deb Campbell, an agronomist based in Dundalk and owner of Agronomy Advantage, Grey County was the area of greatest concern. After assessing fields on June 1, however, she believes the region’s growers managed to avoid “really catastrophic problems.” Indeed, frost damage is seemingly random and has more to do with localized areas within fields.

“We can find damaged soybeans and corn. In some, it’s maybe 10 per cent. There’s not going to be a whole lot of replanting,” she says.

“In low areas, particularly if they’re muck or have a high amount of residue, they just don’t radiate the heat back out at night. That’s where most damage is found. That could be at Wingham, or Dundalk. It’s the area of the field more than the area itself.”

The impact of cold aside, Campbell reiterates most replanting in the region is actually a result of crusting and other unfavourable soil conditions. This reflects the previous year’s planting season when earlier planted crops sat in the ground too long, suffering cold injury and emerging unevenly as a result. 

“One thing going for us is we have a fantastic forecast,” she says. “If they can get the seed in the ground and hopefully get some rain in the next week or so, I really don’t know if there will be enough of a setback from a replant.”