Ontario’s first major crops of the season — asparagus and strawberries — are starting well.
“We’ve had a bountiful harvest, which we haven’t experienced for quite a few years,” said Brenda Lammens, a partner in Langton-based Spearit Farms and a director of the Ontario Asparagus Growers’ Marketing Board.
Cool weather at the end of May slowed growth but gave growers a chance to catch up and assess markets, Lammens said.
Quality was excellent until the first weekend in June, when strong winds and driving rain left growers struggling to get the crop clean for market.
Lammens said the price has been stable on the fresh market, and processors have bought up seconds and surplus product.
Charles Welsh, co-owner of Welsh Bros., Scotland, Ontario, said his crop’s May 6 start was unusual because it didn’t coincide with an early frost.
“Normally we lose a little bit at the start to frost,” said Welsh, who also sells organic asparagus throughout North America via several Toronto wholesalers.
Robert Chesney, owner of Innerkip-based Thames River Melons, has been bringing asparagus from his 20-acre plot to more than 12 local farmers markets.
“Overall it’s been a good crop,” said Chesney, who grows more than a dozen fruits and vegetables on 500 acres of former tobacco land in southwestern Ontario.
His first strawberries of the season debuted June 4, and he said he’s looking forward to his first marketable crop of blueberries later in the summer.
Kevin Schooley, executive director of the Kemptville-based Ontario Berry Growers Association, said some of Ontario’s 300 strawberry growers suffered frost injury in May, but the plants have bounced back.
Ontario is so vast, growers
in the Windsor area began picking the third week of May while growers near Thunder Bay hope to
start July 7, Schooley said.
The province has about 3,500 acres of strawberries, he said, with most areas in production June 10-20.
To extend the season, more growers are planting day-neutral berries, which produce continuously all summer and into the fall.
The late-summer valley sunset variety with its large berries is also popular.
Schooley said most Ontario berries are sold at the farm gate or farmers markets, which have been financially rewarding for growers.
Growers who sell to grocery chains have invested in forced-air cooling and modified-atmosphere storage that slows ripening by reducing oxygen and increasing carbon dioxide.
“Imports have an impact, mostly because of the price tag,” he said, “but the people of Ontario appreciate local berries and realize the difference between our product and imports.”