This week has been a challenging one for farmers in southern Ontario.
A wave of cold Arctic air that washed over the Great Lakes as far south as Atlanta on May 9 has posed a frost threat into Wednesday.
Farmers in Norfolk County and surrounding area report a hard frost in the agricultural zone on May 9 that could have implications for asparagus, strawberries, apples and tender-fruit crops in area orchards.
The cold weather also destroyed any asparagus that had presented itself for harvesting this past weekend.
Grower Mike Chromczak of Tillsonburg, a director of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, reported that spears in his acreage were blackened and will have to be culled to make way for new growth. It remains to be seen whether the frost was intense enough to hamper the harvest going forward.
“I’ve seen years where we got a heavy frost in the middle of a flush and we saw season-long damage from that,” Chromczak said.
“I’ve also seen years where the crop was unfazed. So we have to wait and see. It’s a pretty resilient plant. We just have to wait and see what happens. There are a lot of damaged spears out there.”
Frost is variable from farm to farm depending on factors such as elevation, topography and ambient moisture. While Environment Canada reported a low Saturday in Simcoe of -2.8 degrees Celsius., Meadow Lynn Farms on the south side of town watched the mercury drop to -8 degrees Celsius.
Farmer Sharon Judd attributes this, in part, to the location of Meadow Lynn Farms in the Lynn River valley and the fact that cold air pools in low-lying areas. Judd says it remains to be seen what this weekend’s cold means for the family’s seven-acre strawberry crop.
“This is unprecedented,” she said. “We have never experienced a weather system like this.
“But Mother Nature is pretty resilient. We’re hoping that – if the first blossoms were burnt off – that the later fruit will make up for it by being larger. We just don’t know yet.”
The jury is still out on the apple and cherry crop at Schuyler Farms of Simcoe. Amidst snow flurries last Saturday morning — occasionally intense at times — farmer Brett Schuyler was out checking the damage.
Like Meadow Lynn Farms, the large orchard operator ran sprinklers Friday night in an effort to protect fruits trees and bud sets with an insulating layer of ice. Schuyler says the mercury at his operation dipped to -3 degree Celsius Friday night.
“It could be OK,” he said Saturday. “Or it could be really bad. The temperature was right in that area where you don’t want to see it.”
The rule of thumb for apples and tender fruit trees is that a hard frost in the range of – 2.2 degrees Celsius will damage 10 per cent of your bud set while one in the range of -4.4 degrees Celsius will damage about 90 per cent.
“We’re sweating pretty bad,” Schuyler said. “We’ll cut open buds in the next few days and we’ll see how bad it is.”
Environment Canada says the lowest temperature recorded in Simcoe for May 9 occurred in 2017 when the mercury dipped to -2.5 Celsius. The record high of 29.7 degrees Celsius for May 9 occurred in 2015.