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Southwestern Ontario farmers rush to plant crops after soggy spring delays work

Brendan Byrne has been rushing all week to get corn, soy beans and wheat into the soil on his farm in southwestern Ontario.
The Essex County grain farmer is weeks behind in his planting schedule due to this year's soggy and cool spring. A recent stretch of warm weather now has him scrambling to get his crops in the ground before it's too late for them to grow fully through the season.
"It's been pretty relentless," said Byrne. "Every time we've had a chance of rain called for, we've pretty much gotten it, and because the ground hadn't dried out, you'd get even a small rain and it would look like there were puddles everywhere and ponded water. It's been tough."
Byrne, who is also the vice-chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, said other growers in the province's southwest are in the same situation. Ordinarily, all crops would be planted by the first week of June but the wet weather has brought significant delays, he said.
The 43-year-old said Agricorp, a company that provides farmers with crop insurance, gave him an extension until July 5 to get his beans in the ground, but even after three days of work, only about a quarter of his crops were planted. Agricorp said it was extending planting deadlines for various crops this year, including bell and banana peppers, canola, corn, green peas and onions.
If the weather holds out — as Environment Canada predicts it will through Monday — Byrne said he expects plenty of planting in the coming week, but even strong sunshine can have its downsides this late in the game.
"When you go from a lot of wet, cool weather and then all of a sudden we're getting really, really hot weather right now, there's potential for the ground to crust up and get hard really quickly," he said. "That's what's happening right now."
Peter Brunato, a farmer and board member with the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers — which represents producers of crops such as tomatoes, wax beans and peppers for the canning, freezing and pickling industry — said around 65 per cent of the land in Essex is planted.
"There is presently a mad rush going on trying to get the last of the grain in and it will take at least another four to five days to make sure the ground is fit," he said.
The last time this part of the province saw such poor planting conditions was 1969, Brunato said, and "this is very close." If conditions don't improve, it's possible that certain produce sold in Ontario could end up being in short supply in a few months, he said.
Conditions have been so wet that on May 23, the Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs's field crop report said soils were unfit for field operations in large parts of the province, especially in much of the southwest and parts of eastern Ontario.

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