Eye-popping wheat harvest offsets sting of higher costs and low prices

There was a combine traffic jam in Rutherford Monday night as Central Lambton farmers brought in the wheat crop.

Kevin Marriott knew this spring the wheat crop would be exceptional.

But as it was coming off his Enniskillen Township field, the spokesman for the Grain Farmers of Lambton couldn’t believe his eyes.

Normally, farmers expect between 80 and 90 bushels of wheat per acre. This year, Marriott is recording between 110 and 125 per acre and hit a high in one field of 138 bushels. And he’s heard of other farmers reaping even more than that.

“I think on our farm the old record was 100 or 105 – we used to think if you ever got 100 bushels you’d won the lottery. This is the craziest thing.”

After a poor 2015, good conditions in the fall meant 900,000 acres of winter wheat was planted across the province. About 100,000 of those acres were in Lambton County.

Marriott says Lambton County – which grows the most wheat in Ontario – had “near perfect conditions” this year.

Marriott says the crop came out of the relatively mild winter looking pretty good and despite some rain in the early spring and then drought conditions, it fared well.

While Windsor and Essex suffered in the drought, the heavier clay field in Lambton held just enough water to make the crop flourish. The dry weather also kept the harvest healthy, keeping fungi away.

“In Windsor, they’re finding low yields, but in Lambton we still had enough moisture with the clay ground that it has done well.

“We couldn’t have written a better recipe for this wheat crop.”

Even a deluge of rain after two days of harvesting wasn’t enough to dampen the crop. “These rains shouldn’t hurt it; when the sun comes out…it doesn’t get a chance to sit (in water) and cause sprouting of the kernels…it’s just an interruption.”

The down side to the once-in-a-generation crop is price. Marriott says farmers who signed contracts with grain dealers earlier this year may see prices in the $6 per bushel range but wheat right now is selling for about $4 to $4.50 per bushel. “The price is not good…$4.50 per bushel used to be a good price, but the cost of inputs has gone up…the big yields are only compensating for higher costs,” he says adding that at 100 bushels an acre $4 per bushel will mean a break-even crop.