By Connor Lynch
NORTH GOWER — Strawberries in Eastern Ontario have blossomed beneath the incessant rainfall. However, extreme weather patterns hitting here and there has wreaked havoc on a few growers, and constant rain has chased away pick-your-own customers.
Mel Foster, who farms 12 acres of strawberries at North Gower, said his farm lost about 20 per cent of its total yield of strawberries to the hail earlier this year.
“There’s been a number of growers hit by hail. Some even worse than we are,” he told Farmers Forum.
The Fosters grow a few different varieties of strawberries that mature at different times to stretch out the season. The cool weather meant that the later varieties that survived the hail were maturing slowly, but surely.
The Fosters were helped by a nearby grower who quit growing strawberries last year, drawing more customers to his farm. “(Sales) numbers were probably about the same, or even a hair up from last year.”
For most Eastern Ontario growers, the biggest problem has been the rain, said Ontario Berry Growers Association executive director Kevin Schooley. Constant rain put a damper on the quality of the berries, making them softer and more susceptible to rot, as well as keeping pick-your-own customers away.
But strawberries like rain, at least an inch a week, and that meant that yields were good, even if quality sometimes struggled. “I’d say in general this is one of the better crops we’ve had in some time. Lots of good volume there,” Schooley said.
That’s a stark contrast to last year, when growers were labouring under drought conditions. A year ago, the best case scenario for a grower with irrigation was an average year, whereas “this year is one of the best.”
Beckwith-area farmer Jack Eyamie, who grew four acres of strawberries at the farm southwest of Ottawa, had a very solid crop. His land is well-drained and can handle the rain. His biggest problem has been getting people to come out and pick. On a normal, sunshiny day, he’d get 100 people visiting. When it rained, that dropped to about 25. On the worst days, there would still be five or six people out there, he said.
The saving grace on his farm was the cool weather. “Had it been warm every day, the rain and humidity would’ve rotted the berries,” he said.
The real concern for his crop is for next year. The farm sits on clay soil that retains a lot of water. “It’s like walking in pudding. I can’t get in,” Eyamie said. That’s kept Eyamie from spraying and weeding his plants to prepare them for next year. “It’s rained something like 17 out of the 24 days we’ve been open.”