by SUSAN MANN
Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin is touring a Beamsville-area apple and tender fruit farm on Thursday to help him assess if there has been a disaster in those crops across the province.
Apple and tender fruit growers are reporting widespread damage to blossoms on their trees after they were hit by frost during the last weekend of April. Brian Gilroy, who has an apple farm near Meaford in Georgian Bay, says the summer-like weather in March accelerated bloom development in apples so the blossoms were out a month earlier than normal. But that left them vulnerable to frosty nighttime temperatures in April.
He says the frost has deformed the blossoms on his trees. “I still haven’t seen a normal blossom at my place. They’re all weird. There should be five or six blooms per blossom and mine are two and three.”
Gilroy, chair of Ontario Apple Growers, made the comments as the organization announced there is wide spread damage to the apple crop with some farmers facing a 100 per cent loss in their orchards.
Mark Cripps, McMeekin’s press secretary, says the province is still a few weeks away “from being able to determine whether it’s a disaster.” But the minster is very concerned “about the damage so he wants to go see it first hand for himself.”
Cripps says they’ve heard up to 80 per cent of the apple crop could potentially be lost. Gilroy says last year, Ontario growers harvested close to nine million bushels of apples worth approximately $60 million.
For grapes, it’s too early to determine if there has been damage in that crop, Cripps says. “We’ll know more in the next couple of weeks.”
The tour will start at 2:30 p.m. and be at Mountain View Orchards, the farm of Rich Feenstra. Representatives from Agricorp, plus apple and tender fruit industry officials will also attend.
The Ontario minister will also meet with Quebec Minster of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Pierre Corbeil, Wednesday in Montreal at the Salon international de l’alimentation (SIAL) Canada, a showcase of North American agri-food businesses, to discuss fruit crop damage and other matters. Cripps says Quebec fruit farmers have also experienced damage to their crops and the two ministers will be talking about “whether they need to potentially have a united front to go to the federal government” so they can possibly trigger AgriRecovery funds.
McMeekin says in a prepared statement provided by Cripps that he’s aware of the situation affecting Ontario fruit growers and his ministry is working with the industry. “I’ve encouraged producers who believe they have suffered damage to contact Agricorp to review existing support options available to them.”
Growers can apply for an interim AgriStability payment citing extenuating circumstances, McMeekin says. “Support available from existing programs will be taken into account before any response under AgriRecovery can be determined.”
Cripps says there’s a process that enables the provincial and federal governments to implement AgriRecovery “under certain prescribed circumstances” to assist farmers in recovering from a disaster. AgriRecovery is a disaster relief program that’s funded 60 per cent by the federal government and 40 per cent by the province.
On the federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website it says the aim of AgriRecovery is to provide affected producers with assistance to help them mitigate the impacts of a disaster and/or resume business operations as quickly as possible following a disaster.
Gilroy says “Georgian Bay has been acknowledging serious damage for close to a month now.” And now many growers in other regions, such as Niagara, the north shore of Lake Erie, and east of Toronto, were seriously affected by frost the last weekend of April.
Apple growers will experience reduced yields and decreased incomes, while those without a crop are facing significant costs to maintain their orchards.
For consumers, the losses in apple orchards will mean fewer locally grown apples in stores this fall and likely higher prices.
The trees may look normal but frost has damaged the blossoms so they won’t bear fruit and, if they do, farmers will see fewer apples per tree. Some fruit will have visible damage, including frost scaring and ridging, where apples develop ridges similar to pumpkins.
Gilroy says Ontario Apple Growers will have a better handle on the amount of production losses after its June 5 board meeting. But this could be the smallest apple crop “we’ve had in a very long time.” BF