By Connor Lynch
After a wicked storm in mid-April blanketed much of Ontario under ice and blasted it with strong winds, farmers are split on what that late storm means for the cropping season.
“Snow makes grain,” some farmers said. Others agreed. “Snow in April is a poor man’s fertilizer.”
Does a late snow really improve crop conditions? Some Ontario farmers got into it over Twitter, some totally convinced the adage is true. Others are convinced it’s not. Even an Alberta grain marketing company waded into the debate happily crowing on Twitter about how good an April snowfall is for a corn or soybean crop.
But is there any truth to it? Does snow make grain? Or is it an old wives’ tale?
Some farmers say the adage rings true. Crop farmer Jennifer Doelman, of Barclay Dick and Sons at Douglas in Renfrew County, said there is merit to the snow makes grain idea. Especially if the snow falls on thawed ground, water will percolate in. In western Canada, Doelman said it’s even more true, since drier conditions mean growers are more desperate for moisture in the spring. On alfalfa and winter wheat especially, an April snowfall is an insulating blanket for the crop, she said.
Lanark County farmer John Vanderspank agreed. A snowfall that melts away quickly on a crop just coming up seems to make the crop jump, he said. “I don’t know if it’s the nitrogen (in snow), the sustained moisture or what, but there is some truth to it.” Corn especially seems to respond, he said, so long as that snow doesn’t stick around.
Crop farmer and custom operator Marcel LaFrance, out of Crysler, said that ice seems to be better than snow, so long as it’s early in the season. A frost that reaches into the ground to break it up seems to pay off later in the season, he said. As for snow, it could be a good insulator for a wheat crop, or hay crop.
Others disagree. Eastern Ontario agronomist Gilles Quesnel doesn’t think there is any merit to the idea. There’s no harm either. Snow can contain nitrogen, which can give a small boost to the crop it falls on, but it’s a miniscule amount compared to how much farmers would normally put on, Quesnel said. A snowfall, on the other hand, could delay planting, but not when it falls this early in the year, he said. The storm which hit Eastern Ontario April 13 came when most farmers wouldn’t normally even be able to get fertilizer on the ground, let alone get crop in, said Quesnel.
Morewood-area crop farmer Andre Menard, who runs a grain elevator as well, doesn’t believe the adage. “I think rain makes grain, not snow. Snow makes snowmen.”