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Wet and humid P.E.I. summer has left some grain growers in ‘lots of hurt’

Grain growers on Prince Edward Island have seen better years, but some haven’t seen very many worse than this one.

At Meadowbrook Farms in Winsloe, David Mol was using the sunshine on Thursday to cut a field of Helena milling wheat ahead of another torrential weather system forecast for Saturday and Sunday. 

“Unfortunately because of the amount of rain we’ve had, there’s been a number of crops which should have been cut. They’ve passed their maturity and they haven’t been cut yet,” Mol said. “So the quality on some of the peas and barley is certainly not what it should have been.”

Mol said the bad luck this year goes back right to the dry start to the season.

“Not being able to plant some of the crops as early as we wanted to and the cool weather meant that they didn’t start growing as quickly as well,” he said.

A close-up of the Helena milling wheat that David Mol was harvesting Thursday at his farm in Winsloe, P.E.I.
A close-up of the Helena milling wheat that David Mol was harvesting Thursday at his farm in Winsloe. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Then July brought a long spell of humid heat, something that moderate-climate grains are not accustomed to. 

“The cereals rushed to get to maturity,” Mol said. For a while, things were looking good.

Then not so good.

“We started getting all these untimely rains and it kept the fields moist, it kept the crops moist and we ended up with a lot of disease pressure this year, pressure we haven’t seen probably since 2009, 2010.”

On top of that, Mol said heavy winds meant a lot of lodging, with the crop lying flat to the ground in big portions of the fields.

That makes it harder to cut the stalks and increases the chance of under-seeded crops mixing with the grains, making them “less palatable and less usable,” Mol said. 

Grain with too much toxin can’t be sold

Neil Campbell, the general manager of the P.E.I. Grain Elevator Corporation, said rain patterns have varied across the province, leaving some farms not badly off.

“It’s very random across the Island,” he said. “But there’s certainly lots of hurt out there.”

Older man in short-sleeved blue shirt stands in front of a grain elevator.
Neil Campbell, general manager of the P.E.I. Grain Elevator Corporation, says many growers have been dealing with wet and unsalable crops. ‘It’s very random across the Island,” he said. ‘But there’s certainly lots of hurt out there.’ (Tony Davis/CBC)

The “disease pressure” Mol mentioned involves deoxynivalenol (DON), also known as vomitoxin. It’s a mycotoxin released by a fungus that grows on grain in warm, wet field conditions.

“Cereal crops don’t like to have their roots wet and their heads wet at the same time,” Campbell said. 

When a grain crop has too much DON in it, it can’t be sold. Eating it can make you sick, so the crop can’t be used to make flour for human consumption. It’s also bad for livestock. 

That’s why samples from every load of feed barley, feed wheat and milling wheat grown on the Island for sale are tested at Campbell’s operation.

Canadian guidelines say general animal feed can’t have more than two parts per million of the mycotoxin, Campbell said.

“It causes abortions.… Nobody wants to lose calves or lambs or piglets to that type of problem,” he said.

All the rain this year has also meant some crops are still wet when they come into the grain elevators, which is not a good thing. 

Some grain pours out of a truck for processing at a P.E.I. Grain Elevator Corporation site.
Some grain arrives for processing at a P.E.I. Grain Elevator Corp. site. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“There is a lot of high-moisture grain coming in around 18 per cent [moisture]. It has to be dried down under 15 per cent,” said Campbell. “Our dryers are getting a good workout.

“We’re going to have less product in this year because of this.”

‘There’s not a lot different that we can do’

Back in Winsloe, Mol is hoping crop insurance will help with some of his losses. He said any product covered by his claim “will end up going to the woods or being composted.” 

Mol doesn’t think there’s anything farmers could have done this season to reduce the damage to the worst-hit types of crop.

“Using all the technology that’s available today, there’s not a lot different that we can do other than perhaps, you know, looking closely at the varieties that have some resistance to some of the issues that we’re facing, with the increased variability of what climate change is bringing us.”

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