(UPDATED COVERAGE, June 10) A tornado-producing storm
that destroyed some greenhouses in Leamington, Ontario’s greenhouse
vegetable growing region caused big losses for some of the province’s

UPDATED: Tornado hits Ontario greenhouse vegetables

Contributed photo

A block of vegetable-growing greenhouses on the east side of Leamington, Ontario, were destroyed by an F2 strength tornado that hit the city June 6.

A small amount of acreage — 16 acres in five locations — was destroyed, while about 40 more suffered damage in the storm that hit the area June 6, said George Gilvesy, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, Leamington.

The damage was focused, hitting along the Lake Erie shore from the Kingsville area to Leamington. Early estimates suggest only a handful of growers were involved, and only a fraction of a percent of the province’s total acreage was destroyed.

“The bottom line is 16 acres is less than 1% of production, so it’s really a negligible impact on the marketplace,” Gilvesy said. “If it would have been a kilometer to the north, we would have had a much different story.”

The association represents more than 1,820 acres of greenhouses in Ontario, 1,600 of which are in southwestern Ontario

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is estimating $24 million in greenhouse damage as of June 9. That number does not include lost plantings — rather, just the structures — and includes greenhouses for bedding plants and the floral industry. Gilvesy said his association is working with federal agencies to estimate damages including crop value.

One greenhouse acre can produce $400,000 worth of crops, said Helmut Leili, sales manager for Clifford Produce Sales Inc., Kingsville. Two of the farmer cooperative’s growers lost about 3 acres total.

“It’s not enough damage to affect the crop in terms of volume, but it’s a significant portion,” Leili said. “Three acres is still more than $1 million worth of business.”

For Gerry Mastronardi, the Clifford Produce grower who lost 1 acre, the storm caused damage in all three of his greenhouse operations.

For the other, the 2 lost acres represented 25% of his total acreage. Those two were a complete loss and are being torn down.

“The plastic was damaged, and in one case, it was ripped off,” Leili said. “In one case, the winds were strong enough they actually moved and shifted the greenhouse structure itself.”

Along Seacliff Drive, a main road between Leamington and Kingsville, trees were uprooted and houses and businesses smashed to the ground by a downburst that accompanied the tornado. Yoder’s, a fresh flower greenhouse across the street from Gerry Mastronardi, was obliterated.

“We just finished cutting trees — 150-year-old trees that were all uprooted — and we’re just trying to clean up,” Mastronardi said. “I’ve got my crew still picking and packing.”

Kingsville-based Mucci International Marketing sits just a kilometer or two down the road from Yoder’s, but seems to have been mostly spared, said Sandra Dick, marketing coordinator.

“I don’t think it touched down right around us,” Dick said. “One of our old ranges had a little damage, but not much. And we had a couple growers that were hit, but it was minimal.”

Some greenhouse growers just a few miles off shore were not affected at all. Pure Hot House Foods Inc., Leamington, has not noticed any influx in its business due to neighbors with damage.

“For the shippers handling that acreage, they’ll have enough to cover, and it’s not like we’re in a shortage right now anyway,” said Jamie Moracci, president and co-owner.

And although Seacliff Drive and some of the surrounding streets were barricaded off, only accessible to residents with proof of address on their drivers’ licenses, the debris hasn’t had an effect on transportation.

Gilvesy said he’s working with provincial and federal government to obtain emergency funding for affected growers. Agricultural recovery funds were used last year in northern Ontario for apple crops damaged by a storm, Gilvesy said.

Despite the extreme damage to the area, no one was killed or seriously injured in the storm, a fact growers, shippers and association members in the area are grateful for.