Workers plant onions for Gwillimdale Farms. ( Photo courtesy Gwillimdale Farms )

It’s been a frustrating start to the Ontario field crop season, with farmers trying to seed their fields in the cold and wet as the growing window narrowed.

“Weather delayed planting in the area by two weeks but things are on pace to be completed,” said Jason Verkaik, owner of Carron Farms in the Holland Marsh area of Ontario.

“It was touch and go getting the onions in, but everything did get in at the back end of the window and celery’s going in,” Verkaik said on June 3. 

“Normally we would like to have everything finished by now but some carrots are still being planted — we have about two weeks’ grace to get them in because our fall seems to be getting longer. You might lose in yield when you plant carrots later but sometimes you get better quality so you gain in pack-out.”

The wet weather sent seeding plans out the window and farmers planting wherever they could find a dry field.
 
“The soils are drier than they were,” said Quinton Woods, sales manager for Holland Marsh grower Gwillimdale Farms, “but by the time conditions are ideal it’s raining again.”

“We had 18 days of rain in May,” said Verkaik, who had one field of specialty colored carrots left to plant. 

“It’s not just a day of rain that’s the challenge — you need a day or two to let fields dry before you plant.” 

Dennie Moser, field operations manager for Bradford, Ontario-based Dominion Farms, said he, too, is optimistic about the season, though he worries about onions being harvested late. 

With last year’s crop finishing earlier than previous years, he’s already importing onions from Texas, California and New Mexico. 

Jason Stallaert president of Nature’s Finest Produce in Pain Court, Ontario, between Windsor and London, said most of his carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, parsnips and sweet corn got planted, but about 10% of the earliest vegetables were damaged by rain and had to be replanted. 

“Supplies should be short or tight given all the trouble,” said Stallaert, who still has another month’s worth of last year’s onions to ship, “but with yields low prices should stay strong for the season.”

Len Brackenbury, field manager for EarthFresh Farms in Burlington, said Southern Ontario potato growers are also running about two weeks late, yet most of the planting was complete by June 3. 

“With delays in planting we may see gaps in product availability in August,” Brackenbury said, “but things could smooth out between now and then.”

With local storage potatoes tight after last fall’s tough harvest, EarthFresh is already sourcing from other areas. 

In Norfolk County, with its well-drained sandy soils, Nick VanBerlo’s sweet potato crop is well underway, and right on time, but his subtropical crop needs some heat. 

“Last year we had a perfect start and a rough ending,” said VanBerlo, chief operating officer for Berlo’s Best in Simcoe, on a 42 degree June morning. “This year we’ve had a challenging spring and are hopeful for a beautiful fall.”

“We’re about 25% in the ground,” he said. “If all goes well, we hope to start to harvesting around the second week of September.”

Organics

At Nightingale Farms in LaSalette, Ontario, president Bill Nightingale is seeing demand for his Norfolk Organics brand of asparagus, sweet potatoes, zucchini and greenhouse colored peppers skyrocketing.

“After growing organics for 10-12 years I’m finally starting to make money,” said Nightingale, who packs his organic and conventional produce in fiber trays. 

“Most of the time there’s still not enough product to go on ad. The category could grow much faster with more product available.” 

With last year’s minimum wage hike still hurting and fuel costs higher than neighboring Quebec and U.S. states, Nightingale and other Ontario farmers say they aren’t expanding their acreage this year and they’re looking at less labor-intensive vegetables.  

“We’re just trying to do what we do better and find places to save money,” said Nightingale, whose conventional crops include zucchini, eggplant and beans. 

“We’ve never seen costs this high and they just keep going up.”

Related content:
Asparagus season off to ‘solid’ start
August’s Harvest touts garlic
Berlo’s Best boosts sweet potatoes

 
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