Mixed season for area farmers 0
An odd start to spring, and a summer with little rain have left local farmers tossing in the towel on some crops for this year.
“This year is pretty much finished,” said Mike Meesters, whose family farm on the 10th Line is a popular spot for raspberries, strawberries and asparagus. “Everything is off this year.”
The strawberry crop was “decent,” and asparagus is still being harvested; however, it was a tough year for raspberries, and the apple crop is down to about 10% of what it normally is, he said.
Some fruit crops across south Georgian Bay — notably apples — were devastated after a mild March spurred trees to start blooming. A return to more seasonable temperatures in April killed off a lot of the blossoms.
“Mother Nature gave apple farmers a sabbatical this year,” said Brian Gilroy, a Meaford-area apple grower who is also president of the Ontario Apple Growers association.
Gilroy said some farmers are faced with a crop yield of about 2%; he said 80% of producers with insurance are seeing average yields of about 10%.
“No one has seen anything like it,” he said.
Gilroy has met with Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch, and most recently, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, to determine what support the federal government can provide area apple farmers; he said he should know a result by early September.
Kevin Ward of Fernwood Farms north of Stayner says the year has thus far turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.
“I’ve got a fantastic blueberry crop because the winter was so mild… but my red blackberries froze off the vines in April,” he said. “The strawberries could have been better, but it turned out average… we had a week of intense heat in June that just fried (the berries).”
His sweet corn crop is also a little behind; an early planting was wiped out because of frost and wind, he said.
“I planted corn on April 8… I had an early planting, and I thought I could brag about it,” he said with a laugh.
Ward said he still has corn coming up from later plantings. He also has his fingers crossed for a late frost, so he can get a decent harvest of pumpkins.
“Half of it looks good, and the other half, we just hope for a good fall,” he said.
According to a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), extreme heat and less moisture has been wreaking havoc on other crops around the region.
“Some areas are seeing more rainfall than others, and it’s an incredibly critical time for moisture for corn and cereal crops,” said Peter Johnson, a crop specialist for OMAFRA. “We’ve had areas where growers say they it’s almost paradise with their bumper crops. But areas that aren’t getting any rain are seeing corn crops that look like pineapples growing, and soybeans looking flaccid during the day.
“Up in your area, high temperatures have shortened up the cereal crops, developing them too rapidly,” he added. “The corn crops in your area got off to a roaring start with early planting and a normal rainfall in June. But, some areas have seen the rain stopped, making it challenging for growers to keep crops from going into moisture stress.”
Keith Currie, a hay farmer outside of Collingwood, said he’s praying for more rain to help his crop make a profit.
“I need the rain to make a second cut of my hay,” said Currie, who is also an executive member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “Generally, across the province moisture levels have been low and it’s starting to edge toward seriously low.”
Pam Fisher, a berry specialist with OMAFRA, said the drought and high temperatures are also hard on berry yields.
“Berry crops need consistent soil moisture, so most growers use irrigation systems for effective watering,” she said.
Collingwood saw 14.3 millimetres of rain on Saturday, the only precipitation thus far in July; 60.3 millimetres of rain fell for all of June.
Ward said he was preparing to turn on his irrigation system had it not been for Saturday’s downpour.
On the flip side, though, it’s been a great summer for grapes. Because of their tap root system, grapes weren’t “suckered into that early spring,” noted Robert Ketchin, one of the partners in the Georgian Hills Vineyard on Grey Road 2, southeast of Thornbury.
“We’re looking for a good harvest as long as we have this dry weather,” he said.
While some rain is good, too much — combined with hot weather — can cause mildew and mould, said Ketchin. Dry weather forces the vines to focus on fruit production, rather than sprouting leaves.
Saturday’s rain “perked everything up, but not really enough,” noted Meesters.
Meesters has since transferred his off-shore workers to another farm.
“We just don’t have the work for them,” he said.
- with files from Nicki Cruickshank, QMI Agency.