A Difficult Ontario Corn Harvest Continues

It has been a very difficult harvest season here in Ontario and your loyal scribe certainly has had my good share of the difficulty. Mother nature is the biggest villain as harvest weather has been about as poor as I can remember in recent memory. Its one thing to have a little bit of trouble with corn harvest, but with soybeans still out in the field and snow falling, this weather thing is getting old.

I had soybeans ready to harvest in September, but it wasn’t until after Thanksgiving that I got started. When I did get started, the weather seemed cloudy and cold all day, something not good for harvesting. However, I managed to get mine done with a little help. For the last three days I’ve been working at my corn harvest. Yields are big, but so are the problems.

Ontario’s has had an outbreak of vomitoxins in corn this year, which is making life difficult for corn farmers. It is always difficult for me to describe scientific issues, even though I have two science degrees. The problem lies in high levels of DON in corn, which makes it difficult for end users to utilize. Any corn with over 8 PPM is rejected and that has caused many problems for corn producers in some areas. Corn with lesser counts than 8 PPM can be utilized but with big discounts. The outbreak is so intense in some parts of southwestern Ontario that elevators have become the gatekeepers doing DON tests on what is good and what isn’t. It is put a lot of pressure on everybody.

The only villain in this episode is mother nature. I don’t really understand how but apparently corn can be infected at flowering time depending on the weather. There certainly would be other factors as well however, the 2018 infection seems to be much more widespread than normal. It’s turned corn harvest into a casino type atmosphere, you deliver your loads to the elevator or the end user and you wait like you would at a roulette wheel to see if you win. If you win, you get the dump your corn and if you don’t win, your corn is rejected and you drive home. It certainly has been incredibly difficult.

It’s hard to point fingers with regard to the problems. For instance, in one of my fields, I’ve had test scores from .8 to 15 ppm DON. How does that happen? Needless to say, it did happen, its still happening and will happen again. Sampling variance is likely an issue, but maybe not, it’s simply hard to have confidence, when so much doesn’t add up. However, I do the know the villain, its mother nature.

Farmers are surely in the cross hairs and there has been much rancor across farmsteads in Southwestern Ontario. The Grain Farmers of Ontario are working to make sure farmers are treated fairly. Agricorp, the purveyor of crop insurance in Ontario, is responsible laying down the groundwork for how rejected crops will be handled for those it insures. The timetable for doing so has not satisfied everyone. The situation is fluid, everybody looking for certainty, with the Canadian winter wanting to set in.

There is no point harvesting a crop, which can’t be sold. Hopefully, most of us won’t find ourselves in that situation, however it is likely to happen for the worst fields affected. There have also been musings about the market accepting corn with higher DON numbers, but that would mean ever-larger discounts, which doesn’t work in every situation because some farmers have crop insurance and others don’t. The situation as of mid November remains in flux.

Not everyone is affected. There are large parts of Ontario, especially east of Toronto toward the Quebec border who aren’t as affected. The Eastern Ontario corn basis is double what it is in South Western Ontario. There are also farmers not affected in South Western Ontario. Ethanol plants can use the corn, but those toxins show up in the DDG’s, so everything is very complicated.

VOM tests have been criticized, because of the variance in results. It’s understandable, but it’s just another factor this fall, which is making corn harvest difficult.

It has been one kick in the pants for those affected. Discounts are large, frustrations are many and anxiety has made the 2018 Ontario corn harvest a tough one. Nobody ever wants to do this again. The ramifications from this difficult 2018 corn harvest will surely reverberate for a very long time.