Ontario produces a lot of Canada's produce, including this millenium variety asparagus. ( Courtesy Asparagus Growers of Ontario )

Despite worries over the direction on wage rates, transportation and trade relations with the U.S., the strength of Ontario field-grown produce is formidable again for 2018.

Though greenhouse-grown vegetables often grab the spotlight, government statistics show the province is a formidable supplier of field-grown vegetables.

Wet weather last year and drought the year before that have been challenging for growers, but conditions so far this year have been strong.

“The crops look good, and everything went in on time,” said Eric Chanyi, vice president of Windham Centre, Ontario-based Shabatura Farms Ltd.

Recent warm weather has allowed crops to advance after a cool spring.

Ontario-grown beets, Brussels sprouts, green onions, radishes, parsnips and celery saw double-digit percentage increases in acreage in 2017 compared with 2016, Canadian government statistics show.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Rural Affairs reported double digit acreage declines for carrots, cauliflower, sweet corn, field-grown tomatoes, squash and zucchini, field-grown cucumbers, pumpkins and squash, bell peppers, and lettuce.

Canadian retailers are supportive of Ontario produce/locally grown produce, said Scott Biddle, president and CEO of the Vittoria, Ontario-based Scotlynn Group.

Ontario produce cropsMuck vegetables are a key commodity for Ontario.

The Holland Marsh muck region, located about 30 miles north of Toronto, grows about 75% of vegetables grown in Ontario and 65% of vegetables grown in Canada, said Jody Mott, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers Association.

The region grows nearly 4 pounds of carrots for every Canadian per year.

Production starts in May with lettuce, and carrots will start in June and harvest of vegetables will continue into the end of November. Root vegetables from the region are marketed year-round.

Mott said growers there are good stewards of their land.

“They know how to take care of their land to grow healthy food and good, safe crops for the world and for Ontario and Canada. They work really hard to do that,” she said.

Located on about 7,000 acres, the muck soil of the region grows 66 commodities and is the second largest carrot producing region in North America region. Onions, celery, herbs, lettuce, cauliflower and cabbage also are among the top crops. In addition to the muck soil, there are about 6,000 vegetable acres in the surrounding highlands.

The region has about 126 growers and 10 packing facilities.

The region was settled by the Dutch and still includes many family businesses and small companies. Asian vegetables have found traction in recent years.

Organic production in the area is limited, in part because of the cost of taking land out of production to prepare it for organic status, but there is increasing interest in organic crops, Mott said.

The government reported the top acreage crop for Ontario vegetables in 2017 was sweet corn, with 19,003 acres reported. That was down 15% from 2016 acreage and off 18% from 2015, according to government statistics.

  • 2017 production of sweet corn equaled 226 million pounds, up 3% from 2016.
  • The unit value of sweet corn production in Ontario was pegged 16.7 cent per pound in 2017, up 6% from 15.7 cents per pound.
  • Total value of Ontario sweet corn production in 2017 was estimated at $37.8 million, up 10% from $34.4 million in 2016.

The second ranked commercial vegetable for Ontario in 2017 was green peas, with 14,450 acres harvested, 7% lower than last year and 13% lower than 2015.

Value of green pea production was $14.13 million in 2017, up 13% from 2016.

Ranking first in sales among field-grown crops, field-grown tomatoes were No. 3 in acreage among Ontario vegetable crops in 2017.

Tomato acreage last year was 13,408 acres, down 13% from 2016 and off 2% from 2015. Value of Ontario field-grown tomatoes totaled $93 million in 2017, up 1% from the previous year.