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10/30/2007

Lack of frost busts record from 1950s

Canada
Frost is missing in action, SETTING A RECORD for its absence from the London region. "Not in my recollection have I seen a season of this length." Environment Canada data shows the London area has already experienced ONE OF THE LONGEST GROWING SEASONS ON RECORD and there was no sign of frost until Monday. Although it varies from year to year, London usually has its last frost day in the spring on May 8 and its first frost in the fall on Oct. 5, working out to an average of 149 frost-free days. But this year, the last frost to hit London was on April 14, three weeks ahead of the average date. And although the temperature dipped toward the freezing mark Sept. 16 and Oct. 12, it never crossed the line to bring the growing and lawn-cutting season to its usual frosty end. By Thursday, the 25th, the area had 194 frost-free days and counting. Over the past century, the climate in Southwestern Ontario has warmed by 0.5 degrees C, enough to lengthen the frost-free season by more than 18 days since the 1940s. That has helped farmers and home gardeners, who have faced less risk of losing their crops before they mature. But agriculture experts and climatologists warn the longer season without freezing temperatures has the potential for both good and bad. "It is not necessarily a good news story . . . how it will play out is still guesswork." Though the longer season may benefit crops, it means the climate is becoming less stable. There is the possibility of extreme weather events, droughts and ground-level ozone. "It may extend the smog season quite a bit, too." The longer growing season lessens the risk of farmers losing their crops, but it is unpredictable. If farmers knew ahead of time it was going to be a long season, they could plant higher-yielding varieties that take longer to mature. But they don't know. And there has to be the right conditions to go with the warmth, such as adequate rainfall. A few farmers gamble each year and double-crop, planting beans, for instance, after they take their wheat crop in July. This year those farmers lost because it didn't rain. The longer growing season when it is warm also increases the potential for insect damage. Another downside is with crops such as pumpkins that ripen early. It is then a challenge to keep them in good shape until Halloween.
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