Early warm spell, then frost take shine off apple crops

In All, Climate & Environment by Linda Givetash

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: May 11, 2012 | [ WEB ]

WATERLOO REGION — This spring’s wacky weather has not made the beginning of the growing season easy for the region’s farmers.

Looking at his barrels of apples set out for sale at the Cambridge Farmers’ Market on Wednesday, grower Peter Van Brugge is not optimistic that his orchard, just southwest of Brantford, will produce a large enough harvest to fill his truck this fall.

“There’s only green leaves on the trees now,” he said.

Van Brugge thinks 80 per cent of his apple blossoms at Scotview Orchards are gone.

Unseasonably warm temperatures in March — almost seven degrees above average — caused plants in the region to start blooming early, which was brought to a halt by colder temperatures in April.

The problem for farmers came with the coolest points in April, as Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips explained.

“When you get several hours of frost, it really does the plant in,” he said.

During the last weekend of the month, there were 10 hours of frost between the 27th and 28th — deadly to tree blossoms and any other tender fruits and vegetables that were planted early. The hardest hit by the frost was the apple industry, facing a $100-million loss in the province of Ontario.

Grower Norman Horst said it’s still too early to know the full extent of the damage to his crop near Elmira.

“It’s definitely a concern,” he said. “It certainly will have an impact on our operation.”

But there’s nothing that can be done about it now — aside from hoping for some nice summer weather.

“We don’t need too many more frosts,” Horst said.

The frost hit early asparagus as well, although with the improving weather local growers say they’re expecting an average season.

“I would have guessed we would have had our earliest start ever but we’ve had an average start because of the frost,” said Tim Barrie from Barrie’s Asparagus Farm, adding that he’s received calls from customers hoping for an early season since early April.

Hans Van Blyderveen, who farms a mix of crops in Brant County, said he’ll be growing more vegetables this summer to make up for his lost apple, pear and plum crops. He added that the mild winter and low rains this spring will prove to be a challenge for those plants as well. “The soil conditions are really dry. There’s a stream on my farm and maybe I have six inches of water in it. Last year it flooded three times,” he said.

Phillips, however, noted that as long as some rainfall comes every week, crops should be fine in the coming weeks. Dry conditions can also be helpful, allowing farmers to get out into the fields early to prepare.

According to Peter Johnson, provincial cereal specialist for the Ministry of Agriculture, 90 per cent of Waterloo Region’s corn crop has been planted thanks to the dry conditions.

With crops planted this early, it does raise the odds for a larger yield, but Johnson was cautious to suggest a bountiful harvest.

“There’s a long time between planting and harvest and many things can go wrong,” he said.

Between the frost and dry conditions, strawberry crops may have mixed results, too. Elsie Herrle, of Herrle’s Country Farm Market in St. Agatha, said that while a small number of their blossoms have been damaged, they’re only anticipating a slightly later start to the season.

It could make finding local berries more difficult for shoppers across the province, according to Pam Fisher, berry crop specialist for the Ministry of Agriculture.

Although this will be a tough year for farmers, said Kevin Martin, president of Martin’s Family Fruit Farm in Waterloo, it’s just the reality of the business. “If you were concerned about weather like this, you wouldn’t be in farming,” he said.

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About the Author

Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.