A relatively cool April has bought some time for Canadian asparagus producers to try and get the help they need for harvesting their crop. However, the damage may already be done thanks to self-isolation and quarantine provisions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic alert.
April started out warm, prompting some to speculate that spears would come off in the last week of the month. But the weather cooled noticeably around mid-April, punctuated over several days by steady snow flurries.
Asparagus farmer Mike Chromczak, of Tillsonburg, a director of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, says conditions are right for the harvest to begin next week. “We went from potentially an early start to a potentially late start,” Chromczak said Friday. “But the heads are sticking out of the ground, so I’m going to say next week sometime.”
The spears need a shot of warmth to get going, and they might just get it next week. But the nights will continue cool. Environment Canada is forecasting near-freezing temperatures after sunset Monday through Wednesday. Frost has set back the asparagus harvest in the recent past.
In any event, the uncertain labour environment has prompted some growers to cancel the 2020 harvest. Others will only commit to partial production. “This little delay is helping,” Chromczak said. “But it’s not enough. There are not enough boots on the ground to get the entire crop off.”
Norfolk County - the epicentre of asparagus production in southern Ontario
To minimize the size and scope of COVID-19 outbreaks in the agricultural zone, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Haldimand and Norfolk’s Medical Officer of Health, has capped bunkhouse capacity during the mandatory 14-day quarantine period at three.
This has created bottlenecks for farmers who need 50 or more workers. Asparagus is a labour-intensive crop, prompting some growers to make alternative plans.
Chromczak says it has been a difficult spring for all farmers in southern Ontario who rely on offshore help. On the one hand, farmers are praised as essential workers responsible for feeding the country.