Having weathered a roller coaster spring that alternated between hot, cold, wet and dry, most Ontario field crop growers are looking forward to an excellent season.
“It’s been hot, it’s been cold, and we lost almost a whole week because of an unexpected frost, but everything got in on time,” said Miriam Worley, pack barn supervisor at Oakland, Ontario-based Chary Produce, which specializes in cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.
With demand for local sweet potatoes rising and last year’s storage crop winding down, Ontario’s largest grower was anxious to finishing planting his 800 acres of subtropical crop.
“We started planting May 28 but were delayed by the cold,” said Nick VanBerlo, director of sales for Simcoe, Ontario-based P&S VanBerlo Ltd.
Crops in the Leamington area also were delayed by cooler weather with some frost thrown in.
“We were a little late on planting, but we can catch up if the weather’s decent over the next few months,” said Joe Khalil, sales manager of Leamington, Ontario-based Pier-C Produce Inc., a year-round supplier of carrots, onions, parsnips and beets.
Despite a cool, wet May and a windy and below-normal start to June, crops fared better in the black muck soil of the Holland Marsh.
Dennie Moser, in charge of field operations, procurement and food safety for grower-shipper Dominion Farm Produce Co., Bradford, Ontario, said the new crops are looking good, and last year’s roots have held up well in storage.
The quality of his Country Fresh storage onions, jumbo carrots and a new parsnip variety is excellent, Moser said.
All three commodities should be available until the end of June, he said, and he expected red beets to last until mid-June.
No matter what the weather brings, Ontario potato farmers haven’t found much to celebrate.
“Imports from last year are still coming in from Idaho and there are enough potatoes around to supply Canada until the end of August,” said Steve Fett, co-owner of LaSalette, Ontario-based S. Fett Farms Inc.
“Their overproduction, and the lower prices they’re putting it in here for, leave Canadian farmers at a standstill,” said Fett.
Instead of moping, however, he’s delighting chefs and young foodies with his specialty fingerling potatoes in brightly colored boxes.
Excellent sweet corn
On a brighter note, asparagus and sweet corn grower Charles Welsh, co-owner of Scotland, Ontario-based Welsh Bros., said June 3 that his 600 acres of sweet corn “look beautiful … probably one of the best crops we’ve seen in the last few years.”
It’s a relief after last year’s bone-dry summer, Welsh said, which required constant irrigation to get the corn to maturity.
He expects to start harvesting his hand-picked corn July 10, weather permitting, for high-end customers across Ontario and east to Newfoundland.
Bicolor corn remains the most popular color, Welsh said, but he’s doubled his acreage of yellow this year to meet the steady growth in demand.
“I think people are looking for something different,” he said.
While onions, carrots and celery continue to rule the marsh, Jamie Reaume, executive director of the 115-member Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, Newmarket, Ontario, said there’s a push for more diversification.
Reaume said buyers this year are looking for more colored carrots, different varieties of beets and trendy kale.
At the same time, marsh growers are being swept up in the global market.
“A few years ago, what happened in other countries didn’t really impact us,” said carrot and onion grower Jason Verkaik, president of Bradford-based Carron Farms Ltd., “but now we have carrots from Israel, China and Mexico, where labor is much cheaper, and that’s changed the deal.”