Ontario farmers hampered by excessive rain

Southwestern Ontario farmers saw strong wheat yields this year, despite the wet weather. | Jeffrey Carter photo

Tomato yields were reduced by more than half and quality issues remain a possibility as rain continued into September

Ontario’s processing tomatoes and several other crops took a dramatic, weather-related hit this year, but it wasn’t about a lack of rainfall. Quite the opposite.

On June 27, as much as 228 millimetres fell within a few hours in southwestern Ontario, transforming fields into shallow lakes and the rains continued afterward.

One farmer near Dresden recorded 355 mm within a two-week period. As well, near Mitchell’s Bay along Lake St. Clair the situation was even worse.

Farmers who managed to replant drowned-out areas often saw the waters return. In some cases, onions that had been lifted to dry before being harvested were literally floating in the water.

Ed Janssens and his family farms near Dresden in Chatham-Kent but deliver their tomatoes to Sun-Brite Foods and Countryside Cannes in neighbouring Essex County. “Normally, we have to do six loads a day. This year we’re only doing three,” he said.

In some cases, tomato yields were reduced by more than half and with significant rain events continuing through to early September, there appeared to be quality issues as well.

In Dresden, operations at the ConAgra Foods plant are expected to end two weeks earlier than normal due to a lack of tomatoes.

Ontario’s processing cucumbers also took a hit in 2021. The owner of a receiving yard who did not wish to be identified said the crop didn’t perform well due to the combination of relatively cool nights and blistering hot days, not to mention excessive rainfall.

The crop was also impacted by labour issues. He’s concerned that low German-speaking families who provide much of the labour are beginning to pull up stakes in Ontario to return to Latin America or Canada’s East Coast where housing and land prices are more affordable.

Some of the Mennonite families have also been concerned with the government measures being taken to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, a point also raised by Ian Bradley at D Brad Farms.

Peter Kimbrell, meteorologist with Environment Canada, said that while more precipitation has fallen in southwestern Ontario than usual, no records have been set. Kimbrell, however, didn’t have any numbers for the most heavily impacted area stretching across the north half of Chatham-Kent.

For the months of June, July and August, more than 300 mm fell at London and Ridgetown, 20 percent above the norm, while Windsor received 416 mm about 68 percent above the long-term average, Kimbrell said.

A record was set in 1989 at Harrow in Essex County when more than 500 mm fell during summer, including one rain event of more than 300 mm, which turned the Harrow area into a shallow lake.

Outside of southwestern Ontario, agricultural areas of the province tended to be drier than normal, though not to the extent of Western Canada.

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