Ontario farmers feeling the burn of a summer drought
And it could mean smaller fall produce and higher prices at your local farmer's market.
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A typical day for Ontario farmer Filippo Paonessa involves getting up around 5 a.m. to tend to his fields, care for his seven cows and five bulls, and constantly weed, prune and water his acre of vegetables.
Throughout this hot, dry summer, that last task has been a challenge. “It’s been pretty rough,” Paonessa says, over the phone from Govardhana Farms, his 50-acre farm in Hastings, a village east of Peterborough.
“With the drought, we couldn’t really push our well too hard,” he adds. “We heard of neighbouring farmers actually running their wells dry.”
He’s not alone. Farmers across Ontario are feeling the sting of parched conditions — and fans of local farmers’ markets might notice an impact, too.
One week, Paonessa only brought beans to his local market. The next week, just tomatoes. Every farmer is struggling, he says. “I’ve got maybe one or two pepper plants out of maybe 400 pepper plants,” he estimates.
For Jim and Elayne Hulshof of Hulshof Farm Market, north of Stouffville, the crop quality has been spotty. The Hulshofs have lost around 25 per cent of their crops, and expect prices to be up for farmers’ market attendees as a result.
In general, Cobourg Farmers’ Market president Elaina Asselin says production at her roughly seven-acre farm just east of Grafton has been down around 30 to 40 per cent.
While her tomato crops have been good — they like it hot and dry — spring crops like peas were almost nonexistent, and there has been no production whatsoever of fennel.
“We lost 800 to 1,000 romaine lettuce heads for the entire season,” adds Asselin, who’s in her 11th year at Wicklow Way Farm.
But there likely won’t be any “widespread shortages” in fruit or vegetables, according to the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, since it depends on the area and individual growers’ access to irrigation.
“The crops will still be there — they’ll just be smaller in size,” says Cathy Bartolic, executive director at Ontario Farm Fresh. Apples could be one of the smaller fruits, she adds.
And it’s not all bad news. Bartolic says the strong summer sunshine means fruit crops like strawberries taste “amazing this year,” because of their high sugar content — and there are high hopes for a good wine season, too.
Still, though, the drought’s impact on farmers is more bad than good. Buchi Onakufe, owner and operator at Akachi Farms, at the Kortright Centre for Conservation in Woodbridge, says many of her crops have been small or in short supply, from corn to carrots. Onakufe sells at farmers’ markets throughout the GTA, including Brampton, and warns of tiny cauliflower and broccoli that looks more like broccolini.
“No matter how much you water and spray, it’s not the same as rain,” she says.
The impact on crops
While the impact of the summer drought has been different for each farmer, there are a few overall trends in crop yields for the fall, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Apples: Across the province, yields are predicted to be 55 per cent higher than last year but 5 to 10 per cent lower than an average year, the Ministry says. Fruit will be smaller than average but also sweeter and more flavourful because of the hot temperatures.
Pears: Expect a below average pear crop. Like apples, pears will be smaller on average because of the dry weather and high temperatures.
Corn: The sweet corn harvest is currently underway but it’s too soon to know how the drought affected this year’s yields, the Ministry says.
Carrots: Carrots are a relatively drought-tolerant crop. Yields may be down slightly this year, but that shouldn’t have a big impact on supply.
Broccoli: There may be some diminished quality and below average yields for broccoli and other cole crops – like cabbage and cauliflower – in the driest areas of the province.
Tomatoes: Some fields or parts of fields were showing stress prior to the July rains and have probably been set back, according to the Ministry.
Pumpkins/squash: Yields may be lower for the pumpkins and squash this year, and there are reports these crops are maturing earlier than usual.