by SUSAN MANN
Ontario’s processing tomato growers will still deliver the vast majority of this year’s contracted tonnage despite a greater percentage of the crop being hit by tomato late blight compared to other years.
Phil Richards, Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers board member and a Dresden-area tomato grower, says growers will deliver about 95 per cent of the contracted tonnage.
On his farm, Richards says the crop looks pretty good. His 125-acre crop hasn’t been hit by the blight.
John Mumford, general manager of the processing vegetable growers organization, says this year processors contracted 450,000 tons of tomatoes, up 66,000 tons from last year’s contracted tonnage of 384,000.
The contracted tonnage is up because “the Canada-United States currency exchange rate is providing a fairly significant favorable advantage to our processors and they’ve contracted significantly more tonnage year-over-year.”
Mumford says most of the crop is looking pretty good. “We had a rough patch there where it didn’t seem to want to quit raining. But then we had a really nice August and the weather was fairly dry with good growing conditions.”
Janice LeBoeuf, vegetable crop specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says this year “we did see it (tomato late blight) get into more acreage than usual and the growers had to intensify their management program.”
In the commercial tomato crop, late blight is usually fairly insignificant but this year she estimates two to four per cent of fields were infected.
“It’s still a small amount but definitely more than we’d seen in previous years,” she says.
Richards says he knows of two different growers who had to tear up a portion of their crop, 50 acres each, due to late blight damage. “The plants just kind of dry up and the fruit kind of shrivels up or gets a dark colour inside making it unusable for processing.”
There are about 10,000 acres of processing tomatoes grown across Ontario, he notes.
The blight, a fungal disease spread by wind-borne spores, was confirmed in Niagara along with Bruce, Wellington, Elgin and Norfolk counties and in the Chatham-Kent area, LeBoeuf says in the Sept. 8 edition of the online newsletter, ONvegetables.
The disease likes cool, damp conditions and that environment was prevalent for a time in some of the tomato-growing areas of Ontario. “Once it got hot and dry, it slowed the blight down,” she notes.
LeBoeuf says the size of the geographic area that the blight has been confirmed in is similar to other years. “Because it’s spread by wind-borne spores, it tends to be able to get anywhere in southern Ontario each year.”
This year the blight seems to be worse, she explains, because “it has hit more of the commercial crops; even ones that are protected by fungicides.”
Agricorp spokesperson Cathy Darling says by email of the 93 customers enrolled in the processing tomato plan, Agricorp has received seven damage reports for plant disease totaling 620 damaged acres.
“This could include late blight and other diseases as well,” she says. “We are following up with these customers and will determine any claims after harvest is complete.”
Darling says disease is “an insured peril under production insurance, which protects producers from yield reductions and crop losses caused by factors beyond their control.” BF