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Monday, September 16, 2019

Mixed-bag weather a mixed blessing for farmers

A hot May and rainy June have made a pretty great combination for Waterloo Region’s fruit and vegetable crops, so long as the sunshine continues.

A wet start to the season didn’t put a damper on most crops, as the bulk of Ontario produce is now ripe for the picking.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
A wet start to the season didn’t put a damper on most crops, as the bulk of Ontario produce is now ripe for the picking. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
James Herrle, of Herrle’s Country Farm Market in St. Agatha says they’re just starting to harvest sweet corn, which benefited from all the rain in June. Some of the heavier fields don’t look as good because of how much rain they absorbed, but overall, most sweet corn fields are thriving. Sweet corn is in season from mid-July to Thanksgiving.

“Strawberry season will be wrapping up in the next four to five days for the June crop. And then the everbearing strawberries follow right behind that. Sometimes there’s a gap of a week or two between the two strawberry crops. But this year it’s going to be virtually seamless,” Herrle said.

People looking to get their strawberry fix in all summer will be happy to hear that. But a hard frost on May 23 didn’t make the season look too promising. The growers who didn’t have frost protection had almost no crop, making it harder to stretch the berries around to everyone who wanted them. Sometimes there just wasn’t enough to meet the demand, requiring U-Pick farms to close occasionally to give fields a day to rest.

“Couple that with a cooler June and the early part of July that we had, the crop just wasn’t ripening as fast as we needed it to. But it’s July 22 and we’re still picking strawberries. So it’s really stretched out because of the cool weather has stretched our season significantly but it made it tight for fruit availability during that season,” Herrle said.

He says this year is relatively the same as last summer, which was on the cooler side too. The growing season started off exceptionally dry, which gave the crops a good start, but then the hard frost hurt some of their progress.

He notes the average commuter driving past fields is seeing green corn, soybeans, wheat or alfalfa, all of which are harvested in the fall.

“There’s a variety of vegetable crops that are coming. We’re picking peas and beans and field tomatoes are just beginning,” Herrle said. “Cantaloupe, melon, peach season is just beginning. Plums, apricots, all those fruits that we crave in February are finally here or are just around the corner. We literally have every crop in right now with the exception there aren’t any new crop apples in yet.”

Mark Reusser, local poultry and cash crop farmer and board member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says the weather has led to great conditions for growing hay, except when there’s not enough time for it to dry before the next rain starts.

“Since I grow some hay, it’s fantastic for growing hay when you have rain every second or third day. However, it makes it very difficult to harvest because you need more than two days to get hay dry in order to harvest it, so both good and bad. It doesn’t necessarily help to have fantastic hay when you can’t harvest it and get it in the barn,” Reusser said.

He adds that corn and soybeans in the region are doing alright in some fields, while others are behind where they should be. It all depends on the individual field and if it’s light or heavy land, with the heavy lands doing the suffering.

“Farmers are very appreciative of the sunny and warm weather lately, in that it will really help things along. It’s been some very variable conditions this spring and early summer in Waterloo and in cases where farmers lost crops because of the early frost and had to replant they really need the warm weather because their crops are behind,” Reusser said.

There certainly aren’t any dry spots in the region and they’ve had more than ample rain, he said. And while the fields are looking green and lush, it doesn’t necessarily equal good yields. There needs to be plenty of heat along with the rain.

“A couple of days of hot, humid weather really makes corn grow. Farmers are looking forward to that happening. We could use a lot more of it. Humans don’t necessarily like hot humid weather, but corn really thrives in that kind of climate. Not too hot, but hot and humid,” Reusser said.

A look at the two-week long-term weather forecast has farmers optimistic too because it’s looking like there will be lots of sunshine. He says wheat will be ready in a couple of weeks and other small grains will follow behind.

Herrle notes this is likely the best time of year to get your fill of fresh, local produce, as much of it is ripe for the picking right now.

“We’re right at the cusp of all this good eating Ontario produce has to offer. It’s a busy time of year, but it’s probably one of my favourites because there’s all this good stuff we get to eat,” Herrle said.

Whitney Neilson
Whitney Neilsonhttp://www.observerxtra.com
Whitney Neilson is a photo journalist for The Observer.

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