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Ontario farmers show resilience during ice storm

Farmers pull through days-long power outage

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Hydro crews have been working around the clock to restore power to thousands of customers after last Thursday’s ice storm brought down trees and power lines throughout southern and central Ontario. 

Heading into day four, many rural areas are still without power, which means that farmers continue to rely on generators as a source of power to care for livestock.

Steve Terpstra a family farm partner in Birchlawn Farms near Atwood, Ontario said he has been without power since Friday at 2:00am. Birchlawn Farms own dairy and swine operations in the area.

Terpstra still without power Monday, shares with some of the challenges the power outage has had on his farming operation. “One of our biggest challenges was at our one swine operation…the power never goes out there…the generator was big enough to run the barn, but not the mill,” said Terpstra explaining that they didn’t have enough power to make feed.

With a little bit of problem solving Terpstra’s decided to grind feed at their dairy farm and haul it back to their hog operation three-times a day. Birchlawn Farms have a three gensets - two tractors running, with generators and another two gas units generating their houses. “We make things work…we have been driving around making sure that everything runs,” says Terpstra.

On-farm self-sufficiency in the future

Terpstra jokingly says that if the power outage were to happen three week’s into the future that it wouldn’t be a problem at their dairy operation. “One of the neatest things about our dairy [farm] is that we are about three-weeks until going off the grid,” explains Terpstra noting that they have an on-site bio gas plant. The plant has been operating for two and a half years, with several attempts to hook up to the grid unsuccessfully, Terpstra’s decided last fall to by a second engine to power the farm.

Farmers and others turn to Twitter to communicate

One of the hardest hit areas of the ice storm was Perth County, with North Perth declaring a state of emergency. Fire Chief William R. Hunter of Perth East spoke to on Monday to discuss how social media played a pivotal role in communicating to residence throughout the weekend. Hunter explained that while Perth East didn’t declare a state of emergency all three fire stations in the area were operating on back-up power.

“I think more and more people are turning to social media in incidents like this [power outage],” said Hunter noting that he has been using Twitter for over a year now and had close to 200 Re-Tweet’s (RT) over the weekend. Hunter used Twitter to help connect farmers in the area with other farmers to share resources like generators. Several farmers lead the way in communicating the message. The following are a few tweets captured over the weekend:

Farmers practice safety when using generators

Perth County is a farming community with many farmers relying on generators for much of the weekend and into Monday. “There have been no issues as far as generators on farms…it’s a good indication that farmers are fire safe,” said Hunter. The only fires that the department had to respond to were relating to trees on wires, wires down, or poles catching on fire.

Hunter reminds farmers to practice farm safety at all times, noting that if people are operating generators to make sure that the exhaust is nowhere near their homes or sleeping quarters and warns against the use of propane power cooking stoves in homes. “You have to assume that wires are live all the time and stay away from them,” said Hunter.

Other safety measures Hunter mentioned include – shutting generators off before re-fueling and shutting them off periodically to cool off.

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