It may be hard to find Ontario peaches this summer.
John Zekveld of Zekveld Farmers’ Market in Reeces Corners says tender fruit growers in Blenheim and the Niagara area fear this winters’ frigid temperatures have killed off the trees buds, wiping out the crop.
If the growers’ worst fears are realized, it would be the third year in a row Ontario peaches were destroyed by the winter’s deep freeze.
Zekveld recently returned from the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association meeting in Niagara where veterans of the business were saying they expected a total loss this year.
“I was talking to a guy from Blenheim at the Fruit and Vegetable Growers (convention) and he says ‘yeah, it looks like we’re done,’” says Zekveld noting Blenheim is more moderate of a climate than Lambton County so he fears the worst.
Peach trees are among the most susceptible to the cold. Only 10 per cent of the buds have to blossom to produce a strong crop in the Reeces Corners orchard. But with temperatures dipping below -25 C over the past few weeks, Zekveld says growers are watching peaches as well as fruits such as plums and apricots. “When you get extreme cold temperatures, they just don’t do well.”
Monday, Zekveld was removing some branches from his peach trees to try to start the buds indoors so he can determine the amount of damage in his orchard. That will take about a week. If the prediction of the other peach growers in Ontario holds true, Zekveld says there may be a few but not many peaches grown on his farm or anywhere else in Ontario.
“I’ve been here 15 years now; I’ve had some light crops but this is the third year that I’ve had a wipeout,” he says as he takes some branches from the tree to test indoors.
While the loss is covered by crop insurance, the payout – if it is needed – won’t do much more than cover his costs to maintain the trees. “I have crop insurance and it’s based on a five-year average, so if I had five bumper years and a real bad year, I’d get a good payout. This year, it’s three (bad crops) out of five so the crop insurance won’t cover a whole lot.”
With even with the prospect of a third year without a crop on his peach trees, Zekveld isn’t ready to pull up the trees and plant something else yet saying he expects there will be more good years ahead.
But he says, if there isn’t fruit coming from the trees, they won’t get a lot of his attention this year.
“I’m not going to do a whole lot to the trees. “I won’t fertilize the trees…we’ll do minimal pruning, no fertilizing, minimal sprays to keep to keep the leaves healthy and the tree, basically it’s tree maintenance.”