Peaches are another casualty of drought
With some farmers are calling this summer season’s drought “historic,” the dry, hot conditions are having a critical impact on Niagara and Hamilton agricultural crops.
And with the Winona Peach Festival’s annual three-day event a month away, farmers are concerned about how the peach crop will fare as July turns to August.
Anne Bridgman, who operates Bridgman’s Farm in Winona, said the lack of rain and the extreme heat has been a “challenge” to her crops.
The weather has produced smaller peaches, she said, but they taste sweeter.
Yet the lack of rain produced a good crop of cherries this season that were readily picked up by eager customers.
Still, the trees on her small farm where people can pick their own fruit look droopy and are in need of rain, despite the downpour Hamilton and Niagara farms saw July 25.
“All these trees need moisture,” she said.
Agriculture Canada has identified southern Ontario from the Ottawa Valley to the Niagara Peninsula as “extremely dry,” with record low precipitation. It has a rain deficit of about 100 millimetres.
Dry weather has also forced Hamilton to issue a ban on open fires, while the Hamilton Conservation Authority earlier this month issued a Level 1 low water condition for the HCA watershed. The Grand River also issued a Level 1 low water condition for most of its rivers, with some rivers receiving a Level 2 designation.
Phil Tregunno, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers Marketing Board, called the drought “historic” for the Niagara and surrounding area.
He acknowledged the first peach crop had fruit that were undersized, but with the intense sun they had a high sugar content that made them tasty to eat. But there are more varieties ready to be picked and farmers are concerned about how those peaches will look and taste.
Tregunno, who operates a 700acre farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, said farmers can irrigate their crops, but it’s expensive and uses a lot of energy. But not a lot of farmers have the ability to irrigate. In addition, smaller fruit means it costs the farmer more to fill the containers.
What farmers need, said Tregunno, is a sustained, steady rain for a few days, which could increase the yield. The weather forecasts for this weekend call for a 40 per cent chance of rain for both Saturday and Sunday.
“We really need rain,” said Bridgman. “At least a whole day of it.”
One tradition at the annual Winona Peach Festival is having a famous peach sundae. Drought has resulted in smaller peaches this summer.