THUNDER BAY — The drought scene on farms in the Northwest is looking pretty grim as farmers pray for rain.
“We have had decent amounts of rain until the end of June when the tap turned off here,” said dairy farmer Bernie Kamphof of Kamphof Farms Ltd.
“Things are not good here and they are looking worse every day, but we are certainly not in the position that they are in Western Canada yet.”
Kamphof grows feed for his 450 head of cattle with predominant crops of alfalfa, corn and barley.
“The alfalfa that we have has already been harvested twice,” he said.
“It’s a perennial crop that we cut multiple times a year and the first cutting in the middle of June was a good yield. It was a normal yield. The second cutting that we did last week was less then half of what we normally expected and that’s because of the dryness.”
Kamphof’s corn crop, which is only harvested once a year, is in the middle of its growing season right now and is suffering from dryness. Without moisture, things will be “pretty dismal” and if he can’t produce enough, he will have to look for alternate sources of food for his herd.
“I don’t have the option of not feeding them,” he said. “I’m in a pretty good state myself because I have quite a bit of feed stored from previous years, but I don’t have enough to withstand an entire year of no crop. Kamphof tries to keep extra feed around for years that are a little bit lean.
“Not every farmer has the ability to do that,” he said.
There is still stuff that needs to be harvested and in the worst-case scenario, Kamphof says he will have to purchase feed and sell off cattle.
But the problem with buying feed is the drought isn’t just a localized problem, it spans the entire western half of the country.
Jason Reid, a beef and lamb farmer at Reidridge Farm, says he is down about 40-50 per cent in his hay yield which is his winter cattle feed.
Reid says they are accustomed to sourcing out extra feed.
“We do a lot of grazing management in the summertime and in the winter, we use feed that we buy locally as much as we can,” he said. “The wider that spread of the drought, the wider we have to go to source that. This year is going to cost more and come from further and this will most definitely reflect back into our costs.”
Reid says the drought is extremely widespread and that’s the most concerning part about it.
“There is no feed to be had anywhere,” he said.
We are definitely going to see a drop in buying cattle prices this fall because there is no feed to over winter them. There’s gong to be an exodus, and how long that exodus is, is yet to be seen. There is gong to be cattle that we can’t afford to feed that are going to go onto the market.”
When cows are sold off and go to market, it becomes the end of their life as they head to slaughter for beef products. When dairy cattle’s lives are up, they are also sold for beef. Most lower quality cuts of meat come from dairy cows.
“I have never been in a position to have to do that and I certainly don’t want to be in that position, but if I couldn’t access enough forage for the animals, I would look at selling some of the replacement animals off because those can be replaced,” said Kamphof. “The milk cows are here to produce milk and I have to have those.”
Reid, who normally sells off cattle each year, says he definitely will be selling “more than normal” this year.
Another “immediate and dire” issue is water supply.
“We go through a significant amount of water every day and wells are going dry,” said Kamphof. “If your well runs dry and you don’t have water for your cattle and its 32 C degrees outside, you need to solve that right now. Hauling water from Thunder Bay is prohibitively expensive.”
Overall costs incurred by purchasing feed and water could eventually surface in higher milk and beef costs for the consumer.
“Because our milk is marketed on a national level, we are part of a very organized marketing system. It won’t make the price of milk go up in the store but it will certainly affect my business and cost me more money to produce milk,” said Kamphof.
“And in the long term if we if we lose cattle numbers, the price of meat will go up,” added Reid.
Kamphof says southern Ontario is having an over abundance of rain and are having opposite problems that Northern Ontario is having. They are experiencing issues with the the quality of the feed they are able to harvest because it’s been so wet.
“The feed we are harvesting is good quality but there’s just not enough there,” he said.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal