Ontario growers hope warm days lead to hot market

06/15/2010 03:22:03 PM
Jim Offner

A warm spring may provide a kick-start to Ontario’s field produce season.

“Honestly, we’re about three or four weeks ahead right now,” Jamie Reaume, executive director of the Newmarket-based Holland Marsh Growers Association, said May 25. “We’ve had some exceptional weather. It’s been drier than normal, but we have the access of having canals and irrigation throughout the marsh. That’s a good thing.”

Harvest of some Chinese greens already was under way, Reaume said.

“We’re ahead of the game,” he said.

He said the more than 100 growers in the Holland Marsh, a greenbelt area just north of Toronto, would be working to stay ahead.

“We’re very much going to be involved this summer in making sure there’s enough produce, if — and that’s if — Mother Nature cooperates with us,” he said. “And remember, ours is not in the greenhouse. It’s strictly out in the field.”

A bounty in the field, however, could have implications on returns, Reaume said.

“Canadian farmers and Ontario farmers, for that matter, are the most competitive people,” he said.

However, Candian producers face difficulties similar to those faced by U.S. growers, he said.

“They’re all dealing with the same thing we’re dealing with — a globalized marketplace that works toward the lowest price.”

There should be plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, parsnips and numerous other vegetables for the market, Reaume said.

“We think we’re priced accordingly for the local market, and we still have enough to export,” he said.

Growers shared his optimistic outlook.

“Everything looks really well so far,” said Doug Pearce, partner in Leamington, Ontario-based Pier C Produce, whose primary products are onions and carrots. “We got off to an early start, which was really good. Hopefully, we’ll be on the marketplace with carrots and onions early.”

Pearce said he hopes the onion market remains strong.

“The markets for last year got fairly high for onions, which was much-needed and appreciated,” he said. “This season looks pretty good.”

Vittoria, Ontario-based Scotlynn Commodities, which grows pumpkins, sweet corn, watermelons and ginseng, also anticipates a healthy market this year, said owner Scott Biddle.

“Things are shaping up really good,” he said. “We’re probably a good 10 days to two weeks early, with our early spring warm weather. That’s positive.”

Biddle said he is coming off a successful, if less than ideal, season in 2009.

“Last year was a decent pumpkin and sweet corn crop, although ginseng suffered because it’s more a root crop,” he said. “The watermelons like a hotter, drier year. Last year wasn’t very hot or dry, so it was less than a perfect year.”

The outlook is positive for St. Thomas, Ontario-based Whalls Farms, which grows Indian corn, gourds and pumpkins, said office manager Chris Falk.

“So far, everything seems to be going quite well. The weather has been cooperating this spring,” she said. “We’re ahead with our planting by about a couple of weeks ahead. It has been not overly warm but a little warmer than the last couple of years.”

The company is coming off of a mixed performance last year, Falk noted.

“On the corn, it went really well last year,” she said. “With the pumpkins, because of early frost last year, our yield wasn’t quite what was expected. But overall, we did have a good crop last year.”

Oakland, Ontario-based Chary Produce anticipated an early June start for its zucchini and a late June start for cucumbers, said Miriam Worley, co-owner.

“Stuff looks good, but now it’s so hot, it’s growing like crazy,” Worley said. “Hopefully, we keep getting the rains, but it’s really hot. Otherwise, having come through the frost, the stuff does look pretty good.”

Chary also grows sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers and cabbage.

Waterford-based Ontario Sweet Potato started planting its first cuttings from North Carolina in the first week of June, said Bob Proracki, owner.

“The varieties we use are 110- and 115-day varieties,” he said. “We have beareagards, which brings us to the end of September or early October.”

The company grows on 10 acres. Ontario has about 1,500 acres of sweet potatoes.

Wilsonville, Ontario-based Procyk Farms started harvesting zucchini in the first week of June, with cabbage following by about two weeks, said Paul Procyk, owner.

“We’re starting off so far pretty good,” he said.

The company also has sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

This season is shaping up to be a nice contrast to 2009, Procyk said.

“Last year was challenging, due to the cool, wet season we had,” he said.

The only real weather concern during the spring was a windstorm that blew through the area, said Tony Moro, president of Bradford-based carrot and onion shipper Bradford & District Produce Ltd. and its parent company, Bradford Cooperative Storages.

“Luckily I think the affected crops and so forth weren’t so much affected,” he said. “It looked a lot worse than it was. I think everyone is pretty well ahead.”

Paul Otter, co-owner of Woodville-based Woodville Farms Ltd., said there had been additional weather issues in his area.

“It’s been a rough spring,” he said. “There has been a lot of late frost. We actually wait a little longer since we’re north of some other growing areas here. There are a lot of strawberries and tomatoes. It’s a tough deal.”

Otter said weather problems in the U.S. may lead to more sales this year.

“With all the flooding in Ohio and Michigan and damages from all the rain in Indiana and Illinois and Wisconsin, they said they’ve had more 90-degree days than all of last year, and it’s been very dry,” said Otter, who grows cabbage on 700 acres and cauliflower on 100. “Georgia was late with crops. They all come out at once and will be gone at once.”



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