By Tom Collins
AYLMER — It’s been a challenging sweet corn season across Western Ontario as farmers deal with everything from drought to cold, wet weather.
Dick Saarloos, of Berry Hill Fruit Farm at Aylmer, east of St. Thomas, had to irrigate his sweet corn three times this summer.
“If I wouldn’t have had irrigation, I wouldn’t have had sweet corn,” said Saarloos, who uses an overhead portable water system. He said he first irrigated on July 15 and then whenever the corn needed it. “As soon as I saw it was showing a little bit of stress, I would water it again and hope for rain that we didn’t get. We were very wanting for water. There’s no two ways about it.”
The Weather Network’s historical numbers show Aylmer had 63.2 mm of rain from July 8 to Aug. 31. That’s the lowest in at least 15 years and is much lower than last year’s 243.4 mm in the same period.
The irrigation helped Saarloos reach an average yield of 1,000 dozen cobs per acre. He said the heat helps sweeten the corn.
“It’s been excellent quality,” he said. “Everybody says it’s the best tasting corn they’ve had. I’m not kidding ya.”
Don Malott, of Malott’s Sweet Corn in Essex County, also had to irrigate three times this summer. He expected the season to finish with a yield a little below average.
“Mother Nature was a little cruel at the start, with the cold weather in the spring and then a drought,” he said. “It’s gotten better.”
Farmers in Western Ontario are in much better shape than their brethren in Eastern Ontario, where many areas are closing in on annual rainfall records and were two weeks behind at the start of harvest.
Brian Gillespie, who grows 38 acres of sweet corn near Cambridge and sells at the farmgate for $7.50 per dozen, was also light on yield but was top shelf on quality. “Cob size is good and tip fill is good,” he said.
Keeping ahead of the insects, especially the western bean cutworms and earworms, was the biggest challenge, he said. “There has been a lot of rust. It would have been a disaster if you didn’t keep up with your pesticides.”