Thunder Bay

Farmers in Thunder Bay are recovering and catching up after snowy, wet spring

Farmers living and working around Thunder Bay, Ont., say they're recovering now after a spring that looked more like a very long winter. 

Mix of hot and rainy days is speeding up crop growth but wind is still causing headaches for some

Marcelle Paulin of Sleepy G Farm, with son Lowell, said the farm has caught up with all its planting after a late start due to a cold, wet spring. (Submitted by Marcelle Paulin)

Farmers living and working around Thunder Bay, Ont., say they're recovering now after a spring that looked more like a very long winter. 

Some usually start planting crops as early as late April. But this year, fields and pastures were covered in snow, greenhouses collapsed and others were flooded. 

Two months later, many farmers say, they're now caught up. 

"What we've had to deal with has been piling all of our spring work into about four or five weeks," said Marcelle Paulin, the co-owner of Sleepy G. Farm in Pass Lake, Ont., about 40 minutes from Thunder Bay. 

"So it's been very, very busy. Typically, we would do our spring work over, you know, seven weeks. But it's been sort of compressed."

Playing catch up after slow start 

This year's plants are still a bit smaller than they were at this time last year, Paulin said, but she added, "Things even out in the end. … Within a couple of weeks, I don't think I would see a difference."

Wheat and canola at Brule Creek Farms has already started to bounce back after being seeded two to three weeks later than last year, said owner Jeff Burke. 

"There's a lot of moisture still in the ground," he said. 

"And then we had about a week of very warm weather. And actually a lot of the wheat especially really bolted quickly. It's not caught up to where it probably would be at this time of year normally. But it's not as far behind as I expected."

Over at Stanley Hill Bison, feed crops have also benefited from the mixture of hot and rainy days, co-owner Tim Janssens said. 

"We're only a week behind. It's not terrible," he said. "We've had worse years."

Jeff Burke is the owner of Brule Creek Farms. He said the mixture of hot and wet days has allowed the wheat in his fields to grow quickly, helping compensate for the delay in planting it. (Supplied by Jeff Burke)

The Janssens are still out $8,000 due to losses in the spring though, co-owner Ashley Janssens said. 

They were unable to get animals out of the pasture for their first abattoir date of the year because the terrain was too snowy and wet to drive their vehicles on. 

But while most farmers report catching up after a difficult spring, some are still facing challenges related to the weather. 

Pitch Creek Farm owner-operator Brandon Harris said high winds have caused several power outages, damaged greenhouses, and even overturned an outhouse. 

"It's just one of those years," he said. "The weather's just been really violent. 

Harris was able to rebuild two greenhouses that collapsed under snow this past winter, but it forced him to delay the start of the farm's spring community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which allows people to pre-pay for a share of the farm's harvest and receive weekly allotments of food through the harvest season. 

Delays to community supported agriculture program

"Normally at this time of year we have an abundance of vegetables, and we sort of don't know where to sell them because there's just so much coming out because the days are so long," Harris said. 

"But this year everything was so late going in that we're still sort of scrambling to find stuff."

Pitch Creek's summer CSA should start on time, Harris said, but he's considering shortening the fall CSA, which he's launching for the first time this year.

"After selling a spring CSA and not really having a spring, we're kind of scared to sell a fall share and not have a fall," he said.

Harris couldn't say what the weather issues will cost the farm this year "other than the headache," he said, because much will depend on the fall.

A long growing season could mitigate the farm's losses, but an early frost could increase them, he said.

The pasture at Stanley Hill Bison was still flooded and snowy at the end of April, making it almost impossible to drive a vehicle on it. (Submitted by Ashley Janssens)

Burke too said he was hoping to avoid an early frost or a wet fall.

"If we have a late spring … if we have a really, really hard killing frost, sometimes what'll happen if it's not finished filling, then the plant stops. It'll shut down," he explained. 

"So that really affects yield, and it really affects the quality."

Wet weather can also make it difficult to get machinery onto the fields, and it can cause mildew to grow on the plants, affecting the quality of the resulting flour.

Burke's business has already taken one hit because of the unusually cold, wet spring, he said. He had hoped to start growing oats this year, but he decided to hold off out of concern about not getting a crop due to the late start to the season.

"We're going to have to wait until next year," he said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Kitching reports on northwestern Ontario for CBC Thunder Bay. You can reach her at heather.kitching@cbc.ca.

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