Hasn't the weather been absolutely beautiful these last couple of weeks? Yes, it's great; everyone is outside, the kids are playing at the park, we're wearing shorts, the barbecues have been fired up, etc.. But wait, it's March?! That's not right...shouldn't we still have snow on the ground? Shouldn't we be flip-flopping between freezing temps at night and mild temps during the day? What's going on here?
Sure, it's 'convenient' and we're all loving the t-shirt weather after the long winter we had last year; however, what kind of impact will this have on the environment in the next few months?
Farmers are really worried about the impact this warm weather will have on their crops this year. Here are a few issues that have already come up:
1) The maple syrup season was really short this year. In fact, it was barely there -
When it gets too warm the sap starts going to the buds on the trees, diverting it away from the taps.
"We make one litre per tree on average and we're probably only going to make about a quarter this year," said Francois Proulx of east Ottawa's Proulx Sugarbush and Berry Farm.
A typical season to harvest sap is from mid-March to mid-April, with optimal temperatures much lower than the 24 C on Sunday afternoon.
"Ideal temperatures for the sap to flow have to be between 3 C and 10 C during the day and below freezing at night," he said.
Proulx said there hasn't been a good stretch of production all winter and he needs a snowstorm to help salvage the season.
What does this mean? It means that there won't be as much maple syrup and, as a result, we may end up having to pay more for it. Hopefully Quebec and Nova Scotia end up with a better season than we did in Ontario to make up for our shortage.
2) Pests, bugs, and more = more spraying, more chemicals
The mild winter carries others risks for growers, too. Ontario’s farmers count on an extended deep freeze to kill off insects and plant pests that can cut into their crops once they’re in the ground, and they didn’t really get it this year. It’s possible to have an outbreak of insects and plant diseases because the winter didn’t kill them off. (http://www.therecord.com/print/article/686054)
"Because there is a definite downside to this warmed-up winter business, we’re all facing a price to pay for t-shirt weather in March.
See, our plant and animal life has evolved to survive and thrive through the
regular southern Ontario seasons (one month of fall, six months of winter, one
month of spring and four months of humidity, rainy weekends and road
construction known locally as summer.)
When the regular cycle goes off the rails, so does the normal sequence of
interaction between plants, animals, insects and environment.
For example, we’ve only had a couple of dozen “freeze days” — days when the
mercury never gets above zero — this winter. Normally, we get nearly 70 in a
York Region winter.
That’s nice for kids waiting for the school bus, but bad news on the plant
front. Those freeze days play a big part in killing off harmful bacteria and
bugs, keeping their numbers down in the spring.
This year, we can expect a bumper crop of beetles, grubs and other pests to
be feeding on our trees, bushes and food crops. Worse, the warm weather may
bring the bugs out early, before their natural predators are out in their
regular places and numbers."
So what does that mean? It means that farmers will have a really hard time keeping the pests at bay. As a result, they'll likely end up spraying more chemicals than usual on the food. Again, that increases the cost of the food as well (and decreases the health benefits due to higher levels of toxic chemicals).
3) A return to normal temps = possibility of no local fruit in Ontario
With a March that is acting more like May, buds in the orchards and vineyards are turning green. And if they break open from the sunshine and high temps, it could spell disaster, farmers say.
For almost all fruit farmers. this weather is very nerve-wracking,” said Jim Ochterski, agriculture program leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County. Whether it’s grapes, apples, strawberries or peaches, these are all crops that can be seriously harmed by budding prematurely, he said. Though it’s been a warm winter, it’s almost certain we’ll have at least one more frost, as it’s only March, he said, adding risk of frost doesn’t diminish until mid-May.
This means that the fruit trees are already budding. As long as the temps stay above zero then all will be good. However, if the temps go below freezing there's a risk of the buds being affected and will be killed off. This is NOT good. The result? A much, much smaller crop of fruits (if any). Could you imagine a summer with no cherries or peaches or a fall without apples or pears? What would that mean for food prices (again)? We (as well as many other states/provinces) would have to rely on imported fruits and would have to pay a lot more for our food. This is definitely going to keep the farmers up at night for the next couple of months.
My other concern is let's say we don't go below freezing...do the fruits come super early? How long would the season last? Would it be a long season? Or would it end sooner? Nobody really knows because this isn't normal.
It's not all bad news though...this weather is great for early-sow foods like peas and radishes. We'll likely have a really early season for peas, asparagus, rhubarb etc.. Some farmers will be planting grain crops like barley and oats within a few weeks, and corn seeds could be in the ground by mid-April. For those crops, this weather may actually be good (definitely better than it was last year).
It'll be interesting to see what happens in Ontario in the next few months. It's really scary to see how extreme the weather has been in the last couple of years - lots of snow and rain last year and now this year a lack of snow and really warm temperatures. It's definitely not normal.
Sure, people are excited about this year's weather but we'll definitely be paying for this in the near future (literally). I'm not happy about it. I'd like to see the return of the 4 seasons with average temperatures and precipitation.
Here's what my rosebush already looks like. Soooo not what it would look like in March I'm sure!