Ont. vegetable growers weather the weather

Excessive rain and greater than usual disease pressure have challenged producers growing for the processing market

WALLACEBURG, Ont. — Ontario’s processing tomato growers have had to work their way through excessive early season rain and, in some cases, greater than usual disease pressure.

Brothers Eric and Wilf Allaer have fared better than most.

“It was early on in June when there was the biggest disease pressure, but our quality has been very good and our yields have been very good,” Eric Allaer said.

“There’s a way to go. They’re not all in the factory yet.”

Bacterial spot, speck and canker are an annual concern, and this year late blight was detected in numerous locations. Growers often spray weekly until the crop approaches maturity.

The Allaers, with more than 400 acres of tomatoes, are among the larger growers in Ontario. The brothers also grow more than 100 acres of peppers, machine-harvested cucumbers that are shipped to the United States, corn, soybeans and wheat.

Much of the labour for vegetable production is performed by migrant workers from Jamaica. Many, like Dino Hamilton, who operates one of the two Pik Rite tomato harvesters at the operation, have received extensive training.

“He’s one of our key guys. He’s a good man. He’s been with us for quite a few years. We have a few guys who’ve been with us for quite a few years,” Allaer said.

Most processing tomato growers deliver to one of the three large canning plants in southwestern Ontario: ConAgra Foods in Dresden, Sun-Brite Foods near Leamington and Highbury Canco in Leamington. Highbury Canco is an Ontario-owned business that took over the old Heinz Canada plant.

Most of the other processing vegetables grown in Ontario and Quebec are processed by Bonduelle North America, a subsidiary of the France-based Bonduelle Group.

Ontario’s growing season has been described as cool and backward this year, but Al Krueger of Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) said there have been some good results.

He described the ongoing sweet corn harvest as being “fairly steady” and the earlier pea harvest as “reasonable.”

OPVG chair Jim Poel said his processing pea crop just east of London was good, but he has heard other growers who have had challenges.

“There are always challenges with peas. They’re only in the ground for about 60 days, so they don’t have much time to recover if there’s a problem,” he said.

OPVG is a marketing board that negotiates prices for 14 processing vegetable crops in Ontario. Some, such as red beets, have a total farmgate value of less than $1 million. Others, including carrots, snap beans and onions, contribute several million dollars to Ontario’s farm economy.

The four biggest earners are tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers and peas with a combined annual farmgate value of more than $60 million.

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