Hail, storms, rainbows and sunshine. All in the same afternoon. What does this mean for the 2017 growing season?

Last summer in Southern Ontario, we had a drought. The yields from that year were affected – some of our farms lost thousands of pounds of potatoes because of it.

This year, we have the opposite problem: weeks of unrelenting torrential downpours and hail storms.

Risks are inherent in any industry, particularly in agriculture. But these extreme weather patterns are predicted to become much more common. In this way, farmers are on the front lines of our changing climate. They know better than most that climate change is not a faraway future – it’s affecting us here and now.

What does it mean we can expect for this growing season? What does it mean long term for chefs and consumers committed to buying locally?

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How Heavy Rains Affect Growth and Yield

First, lets address what this means for the 2017 growing season. Many of you use the Seasonality Calendar to get a sense of when products should come into season, and how long they’ll be around. We love that you use this tool, by the way!

This year, however, I’ve noticed lots of inquiries because products aren’t coming on as early as they have in seasons past.

When I spoke to farms about it, I noticed a pattern in their answers: the weather has affected growth and yield dramatically. Fields are flooded, hail has partially destroyed field crops, greenhouses are struggling to adjust to the lack of sunlight. Many of the products we’re eagerly awaiting have simply not had the conditions they need to be ready when expected.

I approached a few of our farms to get their perspective on what challenges they’ve been facing.

The New Farm told us that “this has been the most challenging spring weather we’ve experienced in 11 seasons of farming. The cold, wet weather has slowed down the growth of our vegetables and interfered with all the things we need to do to grow and deliver our produce — planting, weeding and harvesting. On rainy days we sometimes can’t work at all, and in the rare dry spells, we have had to work up to 15 hours a day.”

Sovereign Farms let us know that their “fields have had standing water at times but because we have very sandy soil, they aren’t completely waterlogged like some neighbours to the east of us who have more clay soil and are pumping their fields out.

Because its sandy on our farm, we have more erosion and get washed out in places. The soft wet soil prevents us from being able to drive the tractor over the area to rake weeds or plant on time and increased rain has been washing the nutrients down the soil profile much faster.

Lack of sunshine and cooler temperatures has delayed planting, growth and production in our fields, but lately the dark cool weather last week drastically reduced the picking quantities in our greenhouse.

The fluctuations in temperature and higher humidity make it hard to estimate settings and to keep optimum climate in the greenhouse to prevent mold and disease. The gusty winds with these storms has made it very difficult to properly vent our greenhouse as the wind at times has caught our roof vents and caused damage before the sensors can detect and react to the wind speed. This has forced us to limit or lock the vents closed in gusty winds even though it’s a hot day and the sun is shining. We end up babysitting the settings until a storm passes.”

The short answer is: we can expect that certain products may be delayed in when they come on, and that overall, yields might be lower.  Also, farming is really hard.

So what is in store for the rest of the growing season?

We all know predicting weather is a tricky business, and having an accurate forecast each DAY seems to be a tall order. But over all, it’s estimated to be a summer of ‘changeable weather patterns.’ It is unlikely to be as hot and dry for the rest of the summer as last season, and though rainfall is expected to be nearer to normal, it is highly variable region to region. That’s why some of our farms have been more affected than others!

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Buying locally long term

Now that you know how 2017 has been and may continue to be affected by the weather, what are the broader implications for purchasing local food?

  • It means that we need to stay connected to how weather patterns are changing over time, to understand what this means for the types of food we can grow and how long those seasons will be.
  • It means that we all need to push ourselves – farmers, distributors, chefs, and consumers alike – to be innovative, to be creative, to be flexible, and to adapt.
  • It means that buying from farms that grow a diversity of crops makes them more resilient to the risks associated with highly variable weather patterns.
  • It means that we must make an impact with our dollars – buy from farms where you know they are caretakers of the land, doing their utmost to regenerate the soil, rather than deplete it.
  • In the end, it means it’s more important than ever to commit to buying locally so that together, we can build a robust, resilient, local food system.

 

By: Genrys Goodchild