TILLSONBURG — A dump of mid-April snow along the Lake Erie shoreline followed by frosty nights has caused a setback for ginseng and asparagus crops.
After a stretch of unusually warm spring weather, the snowfall dumped 5 cm to 20 cm along the north shore of Lake Erie with the heaviest amounts in the Niagara peninsula.
Early warm weather prompted larger ginseng growers to erect their shade covers. Many of those thin shade covers, which are used to mimic the ginseng crop’s natural forest environment, came tumbling down under the weight of the snow along with the poles that support them.
Remi Van De Slyke, chairman of the Ontario Ginseng Growers Association (OGGA) estimates up to 500 acres of shade structure was damaged across the region. He said the damage was compounded by the problems bringing in migrant foreign labourers, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“The guys who had their shade up had some really bad damage. With the inconsistency of getting their usual employees here in time, it’s been a very stressful time for them,” said Van De Slyke.
OGGA vice-chair Glen Gilvesy said the warm weather in early spring prompted the ginseng to emerge from the straw earlier. He said the heavy frost that followed the snow could damage the crop, which is grown on a four-year cycle. He said any emerging growth damaged by frost will go into dormancy for a year and it may take until late May to assess the damage.
“Any damage caused by either of these events (snow and frost) will cause four year’s worth of dam- age… it may be as simple as losing a year of growth, so a four-year-old root will be the size of a three-year-old root,” said Gilvesy.
Asparagus, traditionally the rst spring vegetable crop, also got a shock from the snow and frost. Mike Chromczak, a board member of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) said some of the crop came up early this year but has suffered a setback.
“There was enough showing that there was definitely some loss, but it’s hard to quantify the long-term damage,” said Chromczak whose farm is west of Tillsonburg.
He said the snow actually acted as an insulator but the emerging spears were damaged by the subsequent frost after the snow melted. Chromczak said the situation was worse last year when a frost in May caused farmers to lose as much as 20 per cent of their crop.
Will Heeman of Hee- man’s Strawberry Farm east of London was anticipating an earlier than- usual season prior to the snow and sub-zero temperatures. He said an early everbearing variety called Albion is the first to bloom and may have been impacted. But other standard varieties were protected with the help of blankets and irrigation.
“For our area, we didn’t experience temperatures that we think are going to be detrimental to the early crop. We are not at all con- cerned about the June crop and it’s going to be early,” said Heeman.
There appears to be minimal damage to other fruit and vegetable crops. OFVGA chairman Bill George, who owns a vineyard in the Niagara region, said his vines had not reached the bud stage year when the snow and frost hit.
“There could be some localized damage in low- lying areas,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like anybody is pushing the panic button.”