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Rain posing some issues, but local crops faring well

If you’re a farmer, you know that the perfect weather is a delicate equilibrium. Heat? Yes – but too much heat leads to storms, or worse, drought. Moisture? Sure – but too much moisture means spoiled crops and an ocean of mud. Last year, farmers suffered a severe drought that led to an irrigation crisis. So, with the summer growing season in full swing, how are the weather gods treating our food in 2013?

Steve Martin of Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. Last summer’s poor weather meant a disastrous season for the produce business.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Steve Martin of Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. Last summer’s poor weather meant a disastrous season for the produce business. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
A new crop report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) and Ministry of Rural Affairs (MRA) has shown that excessive rain in July has posed a big challenge to many farmers in Ontario, with those making hay and soybeans particularly affected. But for others, the mix of moisture and warmth has been just right.

“So far for us, it’s been an almost perfect season,” said Steve Martin, retail sales manager at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm (1420 Lobsinger Line), which grows apples. “The rains, when they come, have been just about right for us. The time period there at the end of June, beginning of July – we actually had less rain at the end of April and beginning of May than we usually do, which was really good for us.”

He added, “From thereon, the apples, they just thrived on that rain, and then the hot spell – they’re growing really, really well.”

But not everyone is happy, notes Martin. “The strawberry growers had a rough time this year because of all the rain. Most growers didn’t get the crop they would normally get … This week I can’t get any spinach from my local spinach store, because the storm on Friday [July 19] literally wrecked his crop for a couple of weeks. And I know anybody trying to get hay, it was almost impossible.”

According to the OMAF/MRA report, haymakers have been the most severely affected, with rain damage and heating making “horse quality” first-cut hay very limited. The rainy weather has also posed a problem for soybean producers, with some areas suffering tile run, root rots, and pale crops.

“My sense is, it’s been very variable, according to the crop and the exact location,” said Anna Contini, manager of Foodlink Waterloo Region. “Even with the [storm] we had last week, some farm fields were directly affected – with high winds and heavy rains – and others were not at all.”

Stuart Horst of Floralane Produce is one farmer for whom the weather has posed a bit of a problem. “Our cabbages were a little bit challenged in the last planting because it was too wet, so we got those out a little bit late,” he said.

In addition, his farm contended with the heat wave of July 15-19. “Our primary business here is growing greenhouse tomatoes, and that heat was certainly a lot of stress on the crop in the greenhouse.”

Still, he confirms that for the most part, things have been running on schedule.

“We do about 30 acres of sweet corn, and it wasn’t too bad getting out. A little bit catchy, but we got it all out in about 7-10 days. We don’t have big problems this year.”

Indeed, despite the challenges, many local farmers are rebounding from a lackluster 2012, when a prolonged summer heat wave and early frost put harvesters to the test.

“For the most part, it’s been good – little bit darker weather in May/June, but lots of moisture. I wouldn’t want to complain about too much moisture, because last year we had to irrigate a lot,” said Horst.

“Last year, we actually ploughed down between 15 and 20 acres of sweet corn, and we didn’t harvest a couple acres of cabbage. So far, I’d certainly rather have this year than last year.”

Martin’s farm is also seeing improvement, with fields full of apples growing in anticipation of the prime September/October harvesting. “Last year we didn’t have a crop, and that had to do with the early frost. Our apple crop was almost totally destroyed. Seeing the apples on the trees this year growing very well … With the forecast for the next little while, not too hot so we don’t have any storms, that’s perfect for us.”

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