Skip to content

What impact does a mild winter have on local agriculture?

Warmer temperatures and less snowfall brings both positives and negatives, say local farmers
20220528 rromp kk16(1)
The Spring Rural Romp saw 13 farms and food businesses in Minto, Mapleton and Wellington North open their doors to the public for an open house. It was feeding time for these cows at Mapleton's Organic Dairy.

WELLINGTON COUNTY – A milder winter will have some impacts to agriculture in Wellington County, but it’s not necessarily all bad.

“This is Ontario, temperature changes all the time and we have an El Nino I think happening right now that’s basically thrown off our traditional weather patterns,” said Barclay Nap, Puslinch farmer and Wellington Federation of Agriculture president.

In a phone interview, Nap said this winter so far has been marked by a lack of moisture and snow covering on crops which can be problematic for some crops planted in the fall such as winter wheat, garlic or alfalfa.

Josh Nasielski, U of G agronomist or crop scientist, explained the snow acts as an insulator much in the same way as an igloo. 

“It actually keeps the soil much warmer than the air temperature if you have a foot or two of snow on the fields,” Nasielski said. “So without that snow cover, it increases the risk of what we call winter kill. If a week from now we get -20 C for three days, there’s no snow cover and it could be worse than if there was.”

Spring typically begins with very wet soil because of the snow melt, which Nasielski said means you can’t necessarily plant. 

“Less snow means the ground will most likely be drier for spring planting and allow farmers to get on the fields earlier to do the planting,” Nap said with maple syrup tapping starting earlier this year too.

There is a downside to moving too fast when it comes to planting too, however. 

“If you get a jump too far ahead of time putting crops in the ground, there is the possibility of frost still happening,” Nap said. “If you got emergence happening from seedlings, that’s not going to be able to handle frost very well.” 

Nap also said a lack of snow melt means less groundwater replenishment but Nasielski noted there is still time for this to change. 

“I think it’s really what’s going to happen late March, early April that’s going to determine what type of spring we’re going to have,” Nasielski said. “If we get tons of snow and tons of rain that’s one thing and if it stays dry, that’s another.”

In terms of livestock farming, Jessica Pfisterer of Pfisterer Farm in Damascus said the mild weather also brings some benefits. 

“I’m not going to need as much feed as opposed to if it was like frigid cold sustained temperatures, I also think for calving or if you’re lambing in the winter, which is something we chose to do on our farm … the mild temperatures are more favourable,” Pfisterer said. “I have heard of some folks having a lot of success with winter grazing, especially when there’s not a huge amount of snow. Grazing over fields in winter will cut down on feed costs.”

A big downside Pfisterer noted is the extra mud because the ground is not as frozen which can cause foot problems for cattle. Nap said this can cause problems for horses as well. 

Winter also usually means cattle are confined to a smaller area than normal which concentrates manure to this area too. 

“Between the manure and the mud, it’s kind of a breeding ground for bacteria and disease,” Pfisterer said. “There’s just not much you can do about it but we try our best to keep their area clean and dry.”

Whatever happens with the weather, Nasielski said farmers are adaptable.

“They’re already adapting to climate change, they’re going to be able to adapt to what the weather gives them because that’s what they do every year,” Nasielski said. 


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for EloraFergusToday, covering Wellington County. Keegan has been working with Village Media for more than two years and helped launch EloraFergusToday in 2021.
Read more