Kitchener-Waterloo

This year's soggy summer has put a damper on seasonal crops, Waterloo farmer warns

This summer has been so soggy Angie Koch can't get her tractors on the field to do any mechanical weeding on her four-hectare farm near Waterloo.

Rainy days mean soggy fields, mildew, mould and blight for growers

Mud and muck has Angie Koch and her team at Fertile Ground Farm doing a lot of the weeding and tilling by hand right now. It's labour-intensive work, and not exactly efficient, but popsicles help, says Koch. (Fertile Ground Farm/Facebook)

This summer has been so soggy, Angie Koch can't get her tractors on the field to do any mechanical weeding on her four-hectare farm.

Fertile Ground Farm grows lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, eggplants, cabbages — and countless other veggies in St. Agatha, on the outskirts of Waterloo, Ont.

"I am doing what you would be doing in your backyard, a little bit of lots of things, but scale that up a thousand-fold," she said with a laugh. 

Koch and her all-female team aren't easily phased by a little hard work, but the mud and the muck make it challenging. They're left doing a lot of it by hand and even then it's not all that effective, Koch says. 

"When the ground doesn't dry, you can pull the weeds up and then they just stick their roots back into the ground and pop back up again, and they're still alive! It's really hard to kill them," Koch said.

"So you have to weed a lot more often and it's doubly bad in a wet year to have a lot of weeds around the crops because it helps trap all that moisture."

That trapped moisture can lead to mildew, mould and root rot. 

Experts, like soybean specialist Horst Bohner, are already warning of white mould showing up on soybean crops, which favours moist soil, temperatures below 28 C and high humidity. 

"Conditions over the last few weeks have been ideal for the disease in much of Ontario. It's important to know that this disease overwinters in the soil and is not spread from field to field by wind," writes Bohner, a specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.

That means any soybean field that's been prone to white mould in the past is in a prime position for a repeat in 2021. Soybean crops make up nearly a third of Ontario's field crops, second only to hay — by less than a percentage point.

Fertile Ground Farm's Aileen Verdun washes off some freshly-picked lettuce before it gets packed up. Luckily lettuce and greens love wet weather, says Koch. (Fertile Ground Farms/Facebook)

It's too early to say for sure if July will be wetter than average in Waterloo region, but June was, confirms Environment Canada meteorologist Steven Flisfeder.

"Just under double the [average] amount," said Flisfeder.

Right now, July is looking on-trend, but a few heavy downpours and the region could beat the average for this month as well, says Flisfeder. In hard numbers that means: 

Month 2021 precipitation Average precipitation
June 136 mm 82.4 mm
July 58 mm (as of July 19) 98.6 mm

Fertile Ground Farm is already seeing the impact of the wet weather on their crops; mostly mildew and blight-type diseases.

"We're seeing that in our cucumbers, certainly — they all have downy mildew. We're seeing it in our onions. That certainly is a downside to the rainy weather. These crops? They do better with the hot and dry," Koch said.

The farm isn't certified organic, but Koch says they follow the Canadian organic standard: no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers. That means in addition to the weeding, something like downy mildew or blight becomes a "slow death" for vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, she said.

"They don't photosynthesize as well ... the cucumber fruits will end up with little scabs on them. They still taste fine, but they don't look really great."

That is, until the mildew takes over and turns the fruit to mush. But that's the reality of growing and eating local produce, says Koch.

"Every year is different. So if you want to eat local produce, you are not necessarily going to have the same diet from year to year," Koch says. "As growers we can't control everything and provide perfect consistency from year to year and from month. So go with it."

And that may mean a more sparse supply of peppers and eggplants — but instead, bushels of lettuces and other greens.

Mud and muck has Angie Koch and her team at Fertile Ground Farm doing a lot of the weeding and tilling by hand right now. It's labour-intensive work, and not exactly efficient, says Koch. (Fertile Ground Farm/Facebook)

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