July 29, 2014 10:32 am

Ontario growers say produce season is shaping up to be a good one

WATCH: Producers of Ontario fruits and vegetables say the season is shaping up to be a good one, despite the weather. Laura Zilke reports.

MISSISSAUGA – Growers of Ontario fruits and vegetables say this summer is looking like a good one for produce.

Standing along the packing line of his fourth generation family farm, John Thwaites can’t help but smile.

“We were worried there for awhile,” he said, following a winter that brought more snow and cold temperatures than he could recall in several decades.

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The fruit and vegetable grower runs Thwaites Farms Ltd., in Niagara-on-the-Lake, along with two of his sons.

“Everything started so late,” Thwaites said.

Spring temperatures remained cold, preventing fruit trees from budding until close to two weeks later than the average season.

Thwaites is now packaging peaches which are the third on the line of its fourth main produce for the year.

In early spring they grow and ship asparagus throughout Ontario and Quebec followed by early yellow plums that are nearing the end of the six week season.

Mid-July until early September makes it time for the peaches. The Thwaite’s fourth crop is both wine and table grapes, which will be ready by early September.

“It’s looking like a good season,” reports Thwaites. “But it’s all relative. We’re farmers. It’s up and down every year.”

Thwaites says this year crop yields are looking plentiful with rain levels helping save both time and money on irrigation.

Temperatures, although moderate, have been warm enough at critical points in the growing season.

“We got heat when we needed it,” said Thwaites. “So if it stays cool, it just means the season is longer.”

Farming is based on the law of averages, not to mention unpredictability.

Tregunno is a grower and Chair of the Ontario Tender fruit Producers Marketing Board.

“Farmer’s are eternal optimists,” laughs Phil Tregunno. “You never go into a season expecting the worst.”

Tregunno himself grows peaches and early yellow plums. He suggests the Ontario industry is on track to produce about 1.8 million cases of peaches this summer.

“That’s good,” he says. “Average is about 1.6 million.”

The great majority of that is grown in the Niagara region

“We ship as far east and as far west as we can,” says Tregunno. “It’s a big country.”

The majority of the fruit produced in the Niagara region is trucked overnight to large urban centres like Toronto and Montreal.

“We can harvest fruit today and get it right into the major retailers for tomorrow,” explained Tregunno.

Fruits, like Thwaites’ peaches, are picked daily, then packed and on to store shelves in as little as two, three days.

The tender fruit growers marketing board suggests what might also make this a profitable year for farmers is hardship in the Southern United States.

An extended drought in California is producing low yields in crops that are often shipped to large Canadian grocery retailers, including peaches, says Tregunno.

Last year, he continues, “some of our pricing was under pressure. We had a lot of American product that was in the store and that created some problems.”

Good yields in Canada this year is putting more local produce on the shelves, he says, even calling for some products to be shipped into the northern United States.

Still, the eternal optimist in Tregunno is hesitant to say this will be a banner year.

“You’re always hopeful of a good year — you never know until the last container is out your door.”

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