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Ontario’s strawberry season ‘will probably end early’ given extreme heat

Click to play video: 'Double edged sword: Heat wave sprouts good and bad fortune for Canadian farmers'
Double edged sword: Heat wave sprouts good and bad fortune for Canadian farmers
WATCH: As a heat dome bakes Central and Eastern Canada, farmers are seeing the sizzling impacts real-time. As Noor Ra’fat explains, the ripple-effect extends beyond just the crops. – Jun 20, 2024

Its was a busy afternoon at one of Reesor Farm Market’s strawberry fields on Thursday.

Normally, owner John Reesor sees about 1,800 customers a week rushing to his Markham, Ont., farm to pick strawberries.

But over the weekend, he got 1,200 in one single day.

“People are excited,” he said.

In the spring, Reesor noticed something unfolding in the greenery at his fields.

“We started picking strawberries 10 days earlier than we were last year,” the farmer told Global News.

“This is probably the earliest harvest season we’ve seen on record.”

John Reesor and his staff have been working hard to pick strawberries, which have become quite large and juicy, ahead of schedule. Ben Maher / Global News Toronto

The mild spring and the ongoing heat wave have been pushing strawberries to fruition quick. If they’re not picked fast enough, they could be at risk of spoiling.

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“The downside to it is that our season will probably end early. We usually like to have strawberries ready for our Canada Day long weekend.”

That — plus customers wanting to spend less time at his farm, away from the scorching sun.

Click to play video: 'Dangerous heat dome hits parts of Canada, U.S.'
Dangerous heat dome hits parts of Canada, U.S.

Summer came to a sweltering start in parts of Canada — before the season was even set to begin.

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The season officially starts on June 21.

Yet, a heat dome descending on Central and Eastern Canada the past few days has sent the mercury soaring — with humidex values nearing 45 C in many communities.

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It’s a doubled-edged sword on both farm products and essential labour.

“If its too hot for someone to go out in the field to harvest, that results in crop loss,” said Hannah Kaya, a farm worker organizer at National Farmers Union.

More importantly, extreme heat can result in loss of life — numbers that are more documented in the United States, but sometimes neglected in Canada, said Kaya.

“When the temperatures are reaching 45 degrees with the humidex, it becomes a health and safety concern.”

In some provinces, said Kaya, it seems farmers are left to bear the brunt of a warming planet.

“Ontario doesn’t currently have occupational health and safety regulations that specifically address heat stress. So that means that employers are left on their own to determine what is the best safety protocol for their farm.”

Click to play video: 'Deaths in Canada increase on days of extreme heat: StatCan'
Deaths in Canada increase on days of extreme heat: StatCan

It’s not just about giving workers longer breaks during the heat.

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Kaya says employers also have to invest in watering systems to combat the drought — making for added labour and infrastructure expenses.

It’s why the National Farmers Union is calling on the federal government to help agricultural employers adapt to the climate crisis by assisting the sector in meeting those added demands.

In Mitchell, Ont., Sara Wood is making sure chickens, cows and pigs on farms have enough water and fans to keep cool.

The heat wave is expected to simmer down come next week, with cooler temperatures forecasted.

Because of the short-lived scorcher, Wood, who is a vice-president with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture,  is optimistic about the supply chain.

“It shouldn’t be a big disruption to the food chain, and our consumers should still see fresh Ontario products on the shelf,” she said.

Still, Wood says farmers have techniques to adapt to a searing spurt of heat like this one.

Tilling the soil less and limiting added nutrients can help the ground retain its ecosystem. Planting trees can also alleviate some heat from surrounding environments.

“We use best management practices around our farms to make sure we are being sustainable,” she said.

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Back at Reesor’s Farm, John’s corn and peas are actually thriving in the blistering heat.

On the strawberry side of things, his farm has got its affairs in order to successfully supply Stouffville’s Strawberry Festival with all the berries it needs during the Canada Day long weekend,

The farmer has, however, cut down his staff’s hours to ensure their safety during the climbing temperatures.

Still working hard to ensure all his customer’s demands are met, Reesor highlights how much farmers have to go through to help feed Canadians.

“It’s a lot of work, and so it’s really important to shop local and support your local farmer,” he said.

Click to play video: 'N.S. farmers concerned over recent consumer habits'
N.S. farmers concerned over recent consumer habits

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