Mike von Massow
The heartbreak of (no) rain
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
It has been an extremely wet and cool spring in Ontario this year. For those of us who don’t farm, that’s been inconvenient. The mosquitos are horrific. The grass gets too long before you can mow it. There have been fewer pleasant days to sit outside. We watch the weekend forecast to see if perhaps rain will wreck our plans.
However, for those that do farm, this is extremely stressful and has the potential to at least reduce crop yields and at worst, to prevent the planting of any crop at all this year.
Many non-farmers don’t understand how food is produced. They understand the need for rain to allow crops to grow, but do not understand how critical the right amount of rain is at the right time. Understanding the stress and helplessness as another storm shows up on the radar might make us think a bit differently about the weather report on our smart phone or morning radar.
I have worked in agriculture. I feel like I have a good understanding of the impacts of rain or inclement weather. This spring has highlighted it for me again. For example, convocation happened at the University of Guelph a couple of weeks ago. Several students missed this once in a lifetime event so that they could be at home taking advantage of a few sunny and dry days to get their crops planted. Many more parents missed seeing their sons and daughters cross the stage as more rain was in the forecast and field work had to be the priority.
Rain can be unpredictable.
One neighbour’s field will be too wet to plant but another’s will have missed the rain and they can get seeds planted. There can even be stress for those that do get to plant. I spoke to one parent who had gotten their crop planted and he said quietly and guiltily that he could actually use a bit of rain to get the crop started. He almost had something like “survivor’s guilt” for having crop in the ground and silently wishing for more rain.
Imagine a business that gets to place orders for the entire year’s sales during a one month window. If they can’t order then, they have nothing to sell for the entire year. Planting is placing the order. This doesn’t guarantee a crop to sell, but it provides the potential for a crop - if it rains the right amount at the right time for the rest of the summer.
The cruel irony of the Ontario spring is the drought-like conditions in Western Canada. Crops are shrivelling and dying for a lack of rain. Individual farms are celebrating or bemoaning rain events that hit or missed their farm. Social media is an interesting place to witness the different opinions on rain across Canada.
In Ontario, we see hashtags like #Plant19 - representing the struggle to get crops planted this spring.
Whereas in Western Canada, we see phrases like #milliondollarrain or #drought19 - demonstrating the enthusiasm and relief that accompanies rain this season.
Farming is tough.
Success is not only based on ability but on uncertain weather outcomes. When we think about the inconvenience of too much or not enough rain, we should remember how much more stressful and critical it is for those who produce our food.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, M. “The heartbreak of (no) rain”. Food Focus Guelph (38), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, June 27th, 2019.