Ontario producers ahead of schedule

Peter Johnson is well known by agricultural producers across Ontario for his exuberant and passionate crop reports via the Internet and on the radio.

But the cereals specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs was nearly at a loss of words to describe the historic start of this summer's corn crop in the province.

"It's unheard of," Johnson said in an interview. "I can only say it's absolutely incredible."

He was referring to the fact that 80 per cent of the estimated 1.85 million acres of grain corn that will be planted in Ontario this year -- almost all of it destined for feed and industrial purposes -- was in the ground by April 30.

Most years, he says, only five to 15 per cent of corn is planted by that date.

"This year we are two to three weeks ahead in planting," Johnson says.

Another bonus, he adds, is the fact that a mild winter and average snowfall have left fields in optimal growing conditions.

"For the most part, corn has been planted in the best soil conditions ever and the earliest planting date ever," he says.

Though weather conditions in the coming weeks will dictate how well the corn matures, he adds that early planted crops usually produce higher yields.

In addition to an "above average" crop of winter wheat, Johnson said crops of spring cereal that have already been planted "look tremendous."

Similarly, crops of alfalfa are ahead of schedule, as are soybeans -- the largest grain crop in the province with a near-record 2.4 million acres estimated in 2010.

"The (soybean) planters are in the field and going strong," Johnson says

He says the weather situation has been less than ideal for tender fruits, particularly in the Niagara region, where crops were severely damaged last week by a killer frost.

"The situation is less than ideal for them," Johnson says.

He adds that the same frost wiped out most early corn sprouts, but notes those losses aren't serious because the plants continue to grow and develop underground and will soon sprout anew.