Tomatoes still No. 1 on Lake Erie’s north shore

02/10/2014 01:51:00 PM
Coral Beach

Tomato blooms at DiCiocco FarmsCourtesy DiCiocco FarmsThese blooms in the DiCiocco Farms greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario, in January are expected to be ready for harvest around March 25 for marketing as Candy Tomatoes on the Vine.Greenhouse vegetable acreage in Ontario has increased 25% since 2011, hitting almost 2,400 acres for the 2014 season as tomatoes continue to hang on to their shrinking lead in terms of overall production.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association reports 228 growers for 2014, compared with 224 in 2013.

There are 35 marketers selling the province’s greenhouse vegetables to retailers throughout North America, but the lion’s share continues to be exported to the U.S., which gobbles up 70%.

Several greenhouse growers have plans to add even more acres to the area along Lake Erie’s north shore in Ontario.

The region, which includes the towns of Leamington and Kingsville, receives more hours of sunshine than any other part of Canada on an annual basis.

George Gilvesy, general manager of the Leamington, Ontario-based association, said tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers remain the top three commodities in terms of production.

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Some greenhouses in the Leamington and Kingsville areas also have a few acres of eggplant and specialty peppers.

click image to zoomThose eggplants and specialty peppers, combined with a slow but steady increase of bell pepper acres, are whittling away at tomatoes’ top spot in Ontario’s production charts. Now at a projected 38%, in 2012 tomatoes accounted for 43% of Ontario’s greenhouse production.

Bell peppers were at 29% in 2012 compared to 32% for 2014, and cucumbers were at 28% in 2012 compared to 29% in 2014.

Most growers expect tomato and pepper harvests to be in full swing in late March, Gilvesy said. However, some operations have moved to an almost year-round cucumber program. Consequently, the association started a winter cucumber program aimed at retailers in January and February to remind them of winter availability.

Prices for Ontario produce are yet to be set for the 2014 season, but grower costs so far are up a bit because of exceptionally cold weather, said Joe Spano, vice president for sales and marketing for Mucci Farms, Kingsville, Ontario.

“The markets aren’t quite where they should be to make up for the heating costs so far,” Spano said.

Workers began picking the first cucumbers of Mucci’s season on Jan. 27, he said.

At DiCiocco Farms, Leamington, director David DiCiocco agreed the bitter cold in January was a cost concern but tomato and bell pepper planting went ahead as planned and was finished Jan. 6-7.

DiCiocco said the company’s cucumbers went in even earlier, with picking expected to begin around Feb. 20.


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