by SUSAN MANN
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
Just ask an Ontario apple grower.
Last year, the province’s apple growers lost 80 per cent of their crop when spring frost killed most blossoms that were out a month earlier than normal.
This year, expectations are for a fairly full crop, says Brian Gilroy, the chair of Ontario Apple Growers.
But growing conditions are still challenging in some places, says Gilroy, who grows apples near Meaford.
There have been a number of incidences of frost and cold weather across the province.
“I’ve had reports from far southwestern Ontario that there is damage,” he says. “Frost fans have done the job this year but last year they didn’t in the same locations.”
Gilroy says this year there was an extremely full bloom in most locations. “All we need is about is about six per cent of that full bloom to have a full crop.”
But there are a few areas that have also sustained significant losses this year due to frost, such as some orchards in the Ottawa area and north of Lake Ontario. For some farmers, it will be the second straight year of major crop losses, Gilroy says.
In the Apple Growers 2012 annual report last year’s harvest was estimated as of Nov. 19, 2012 to be 63 million pounds. That’s down 82.5 per cent from 2011’s crop total of 361 million pounds. (The 2011 crop was up about 20 per cent compared to the 2010 crop).
In tender fruit, Phil Tregunno, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board, says blossoms were out later this year compared to last year when summer-like weather in March pushed growth. That was followed by frost in April last year, which wiped out some tender fruit crops, such as cherries, and seriously hurt others, such as pears. Peaches were down about 30 per cent but it was one of the crops that got through better than others.
While there have been some cool nights this year, “we haven’t had any frost damage or anything of any sort so far,” he says.
“This year, we’re right back to normal.”
Last year’s frost didn’t permanently damage fruit trees, he says. “If anything, when you have an event like that the trees get a year’s rest and they’re even stronger going into the next year.”
Another major weather story last year was the drought and its effect on pastures and hay. Joel Bagg, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food forage specialist, says there were other factors affecting forages as well. They included pest pressure from armyworm, alfalfa weevil and potato leafhopper and farmers having to do fall cuttings, which creates stress on the stands.
In the Ottawa Valley, there was fairly severe winterkill of alfalfa caused by the drought and the other factors. “All these stresses add up,” he says.
Historically, farmers save a fair amount of forage from one year to the next, but with a reduction in acreage “over a period of time those carryover inventories have gotten tighter and tighter and there’s really not much to fall back on in a bad year,” he says.
From the 2006 to the 2011 Census, Ontario lost three-quarters of a million acres of forage ground, half a million acres of hay ground and a quarter of a million acres of pasture to corn and soybeans, Bagg says.
“There seems to be a lot more concern about having adequate forage to feed livestock,” he says.
One of the hardest hit areas for drought last year was Renfrew County. Sheep farmer Dave Mackay says while last year at this time they didn’t know they had a drought yet, this year there was lots of snow in the winter and they had some big rains in the spring, “so I think there’s water in the ground now.”
Mackay says he’s planning to cut hay next week and it’s looking pretty good. He normally grows about 80 aces of hay and 30 acres of pasture. BF