Southwestern Ontario: Vegetable growers not too optimistic

Southwestern Ontario’s growers and experts are projecting a mixed bag for the harvest, this fall. While vegetable farmers have felt the brunt of the COVID-19 related labour woes, grain farmers are optimistic about their incoming haul. In short, for vegetable farmers, however, it’s not a real optimistic story.

“It’s been rough. The start of the year was really hard,” Nathan Streef of Streef Produce Limited, east of Woodstock, told “If you don’t get it done right at the start, getting stuff in the ground, it’s a disaster at the end.”

About half the number of migrant workers arrived this year, which limited his harvest to about 60 per cent of his acreage. His asparagus, early in the summer, and green beans, more recently, yielded poor harvests.

Streef said it has been a difficult year for many vegetable farmers. “It hurts the bottom line at the end of the year,” he said. “It’s just been a fight every single day just to move produce.”

Now, he’s about to start harvesting potatoes and sweet potatoes, with the latter coming in rough. Potatoes have been the one silver lining, growing in strong despite a mid-summer drought, Streef said. As he begins planning for next summer, Streef said it’s difficult to know how to adjust his operations amid the looming uncertainty of the pandemic.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of agriculture and food security at Dalhousie University who formerly taught at the University of Guelph, said Southwestern Ontario’s farm-belt will likely see a “decent harvest overall” this season. Still, he echoed Streef’s sentiment that next year’s planting season is a long way away, and much could change by then.

“The next season is in eight months, that’s a lifetime in COVID years,” Charlebois said. “Every week has its own adventure, so it’s hard to speculate what will happen.”


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