Wet start delays Ontario field production - The Packer

Wet start delays Ontario field production

06/09/2011 10:48:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

Waves of rain kept Ontario fruit and vegetable growers out of their fields for a considerable part of the spring planting season, but they say that won’t keep their products from flooding the North American markets this summer.

Just be a bit patient, they say.

“Everything is late, unless we have some sort of real exceptional summer,” said Mark Wales, owner of Mark Wales Farm Fresh Produce, Guelph, Ontario, who. Wales also is committee chairman for the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. “I’m planting my onions and my tomatoes a week later than normal.”

He said he had to wait until the end of May to plant his pepper crop, but “which would be normal, anyhow.”

Between April 1 and May 31, Toronto received more than 8 inches of rain, compared to the 30-year average of 5.4 inches. Some growers outside Toronto reported having received more precipitation than that.

Wales pointed to a three-day period in mid-May during which 4 inches of rain fell in his area of the province.

“It could turn around — we could have a super June, a super July with lots of heat, regular rainfall, and we’re still going to be late,” Wales said. “It’s been the worst planting season in memory.”

According to the Weather Network in Canada, the La Niña trend that drove cooler, wetter weather conditions in the spring was expected to dissipate as the summer got going.

The pattern of 2011 stands to be a stark contrast from a year ago, which had little or no weather-related problems, Wales said.

“Last year turned out pretty good. We had more heat units than normal,” he said. “Here, along the north shore of Lake Erie, we’re a fairly high heat-unit area, anyhow, so we had a long season. We were still picking hot peppers until the 15th of October.”

Also president of the Ontario Garlic Growers Association, Wales said that crop did particularly well last year, but this year’s rain shouldn’t have much effect.

“It actually likes this type of weather, too,” he said.

Tomatoes likely would be up to 10 days late this year, Wales noted.

“I would have been planting transplants on tomatoes on May 10,” he said.

Some corn may not get in because of weather problems, Wales said.

“They’ll have to switch to soybeans,” he said.

Weather-induced changes of plans occurred at Leamington, Ontario-based Pier-C Produce.

“Normally, you like to have all your onions planted no later than the 15th of May, and there’s some onion fields that we had planned on planting onions that we’re not planting onions in now,” said Doug Pearce, partner. “We have to go to different crops because it’s just too late. After May 15, it’s just too late. You don’t have enough days to get the yields you need, so you’re forced to do other things.”

Carrot planting proceeded, but it, too, could be frustrating, Pearce noted.

“Normally, you’re done and the tractors are washed off and you sit there, but this year, it seems like you have one day to plant and you get five days of rain.”

Kevin Butters, president of Whalls Farms. St. Thomas, Ontario, agreed the weather was an obstacle. but he counted his blessings.

“We have enough sandier ground that we were able to get everything in on time,” he said. “I’m very fortunate. Now,you go 40 kilometers to the left, and they’re not very happy people.”

His company grows and ships sweet corn, peas, squash, and green beans among a long list of products that also includes non-produce items.

In fact, a diverse product portfolio kicks into gear in a bad-weather year like 2011, Butters said.

“It gets you through the highs and lows on some, and some things have yields it helps guide the local economy because you have so much going on close to the lake,” he said.

Other growers voiced optimistic outlooks, in spite of the weather.

“It’s slow, and it’s wet, but we’re doing all right,” said Steve Chary, president of Chary Produce, an Oakland, Ontario-based grower-shipper of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn and cabbage. “It’s going to be OK, nothing alarming. Everything is going to be fine, but the weather has been really temperamental — way more rain than we normally get here.”

Ontario growers have a strong asset in wet seasons, and that’s the land, said Tony Tomizza, president of Dominion Farm Produce Co., Bradford, Ontario.

“Because we have some good, rich soils that absorb a lot of water, we’re probably in better shape than other areas in Manitoba and Quebec,” he said. “Even so, it’s still having a hard time. It will have a lot of weeds. It’s going to be tough and a little later than normal years.”

Dominion’s deal will get into high gear by early August, as opposed to mid-July, he added.

“There just won’t be enough ready until then,” he said.

Cabbage and cauliflower from Woodville, Ontario-based Woodville Farms should hit the market by July, said Paul Otter, president.

“The deal usually starts around June 20,” he said. “There’s going to be a bit of stuff in there at the beginning, but after that, I’d say it will be at least two or three weeks late.”

Woodville Farms grows cabbage and cauliflower.

In contrast, strawberries were on track for an early June harvest.

“Everything is looking pretty good where we’re located,” said Eric Chanyi, operations manager of Shabatura Produce, Windham Centre, Ontario. “Everything is on target. We grow a lot of strawberries, and everything is looking as nice as it has in the last five years.”

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