As much as 40% of Ontario’s field asparagus crop was destroyed by bizarre weather patterns early this year, and the season will likely end two weeks earlier than usual, according to growers and officers with the Ontario Asparagus Growers Marketing Board.
Even worse is the degree of permanent damage done underground in the growing fields. Some crowns will never produce spears again, according to researchers working with the marketing board.
“Yields are down 30% to 40% across our industry this year,” said Jason Ryder, owner of Ryder Farms Inc., Delhi, Ontario, and chairman of the marketing board in Simeco, Ontario. “This is the worst we’ve ever seen, the worst I’ve experienced in more than 30 years.”
Described by Ryder as a “freak summer,” warm weather in late March and early April brought the asparagus out of dormancy. Growth began, and some growers even made a first cut around April 25. Then five nights of below-freezing temperatures sent the crowns back into dormancy.
“The frost went 4-5 inches into the ground,” Ryder said. “Our Ontario varieties are pretty hearty, but that’s too deep for even them. A lot of crowns will never produce grass again. Depending on where the fields are, some growers are going to see huge economic losses.”
Charles Welsh, a partner in Welsh Bros., Scotland, Ontario, said he started cutting earlier in May than usual. But, he too is concerned that the weather disrupted the plants’ cycles to the point that the season will end equally early.
“Each plant only has so many spears to put up each year,” Welsh said. “With the spears starting so early and then getting hit with the freeze, it could have a big impact on the length of the season.
The good news is the spears that are ready for harvest are of “beautiful quality,” Ryder said. He said so far most growers have been able to meet sales contracts.
“But May was like August in terms of rain,” Ryder said. “That really stressed the asparagus. Supplies later in the season will probably suffer because of that.”
The asparagus situation is so dire in Ontario that Ryder said the marketing board is already working with government officials to set up meetings to discuss possible relief and assistance for growers. The marketing board’s website at www.asparagus.on.ca will have information on grower assistance as it becomes available.