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So far, recent balmy streak poses no threat to this year’s crops, say apple, wheat growers

Farmers cool with warm spell

By Dan Brown, The London Free Press

Fields of green winter wheat lay exposed around the London region, but farmer Jay Robson says no harm is being done at the moment. Robson says the wheat crop is dormant, and while farmers would prefer snow cover to protect it from extreme cold, no actual crop damage is occurring. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)

Fields of green winter wheat lay exposed around the London region, but farmer Jay Robson says no harm is being done at the moment. Robson says the wheat crop is dormant, and while farmers would prefer snow cover to protect it from extreme cold, no actual crop damage is occurring. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)

Ontario’s farmers aren’t worried that the extended balmy streak we’ve had in the last week — which is expected to continue into next week — is going to hurt this year’s crops.

At least, not yet.

“The trees are dormant. They will stay dormant,” said Kelly Ciceran, general manager of the Ontario Apple Growers. That’s despite the fact temperatures may top out at a record 10 C in the London area today.

In 2012, the province’s apple crop was wiped out when an early spring was followed by –11 C temperatures, which destroyed the buds in almost every orchard.

“It takes a lot to wake a tree out of dormancy,” said local apple grower Phil Crunican. “The blossom is your weak link.”

“Apple trees are pretty hardy,” echoed Ciceran. “Every year, there’s a risk of frost in that critical bloom time,” which doesn’t come until May.

Growers who planted winter wheat are the same way. There’s no reason to feel dire right now. But they’re taking this unpredictable winter one day at a time.

“Every day, you’re taking an educated guess. You’ve got to kind of watch and wait yet,” said Clarence Nywening, head of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.

A field of snow acts as insulation for dormant winter wheat underneath, locking moisture into the ground. If melting causes pooling in a field that produces frozen standing water, that could pose a danger to the plants. And cooler temperatures kill off more insects, which saves aggravation when spring does arrive.

“We tend to have freezes and thaws this time of year,” said Todd Austin, marketing manager for the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Mark Schuster, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said conditions we have seen in the last week is what we’re going to get in near term.

“It looks like the warm weather is going to continue for the next week at least,” he said.

“It’s actually warm right across the province.”

Expect more mild conditions, with drizzle, rain and fog in the mix, he said.

There are no major weather makers pushing into the region, which makes for a “stagnant pattern,” he added.

“It’s so depressing looking outside.”

danbrown@postmedia.com