Advertisement

Asparagus season to begin under frustrating conditions

Article content

A cool April has bought time for asparagus producers as they scramble for the help they need to harvest their crop.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

However, the damage may already be done thanks to self-isolation and quarantine provisions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic alert.

Asparagus farmer Mike Chromczak, of Tillsonburg, a director of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, says conditions are right for the harvest to begin this week.

April started out warm, prompting some to speculate that spears would come off in the last week of the month. But the weather cooled noticeably around mid-April, punctuated over several days by steady snow flurries.

“We went from potentially an early start to a potentially late start,” Chromczak said May 1. “But the heads are sticking out of the ground, so I’m going to say next week sometime.”

The spears need a shot of warmth to get going, and they might just get it this week.

But the nights will continue cool. Environment Canada is forecasting near-freezing temperatures after sunset Monday through Wednesday. Frost has set back the asparagus harvest in the recent past.

In any event, the uncertain labour environment has prompted some growers to cancel the 2020 harvest. Others will only commit to partial production.

“This little delay is helping,” Chromczak said. “But it’s not enough. There are not enough boots on the ground to get the entire crop off.”

Norfolk County is the epicentre of asparagus production in southern Ontario. However, stringent quarantine protocols from the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit for offshore workers have complicated this year’s harvest.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

To minimize the size and scope of COVID-19 outbreaks in the agricultural zone, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Haldimand and Norfolk’s Medical Officer of Health, has capped bunkhouse capacity during the mandatory 14-day quarantine period at three.

This has created bottlenecks for farmers who need 50 or more workers. Asparagus is a labour-intensive crop, prompting some growers to make alternative plans.

Chromczak said it has been a difficult spring for all farmers in southern Ontario who rely on offshore help.

On the one hand, farmers are praised as essential workers responsible for feeding the country.

On the other, Chromczak said they are receiving menacing letters from municipal, provincial and federal bureaucracies responsible for enforcing quarantine and social-distancing protocols. Chromczak said some farmers feel they are being treated as potential “criminals.”

“There are quite a few bodies out there bumping into each other that want to inspect our farms,” he said. “Everyone is afraid. There is a lot of fear in the countryside. That sentiment is out there.”

Chromczak added that the OFVGA has had informal talks with the Ontario government about providing a backstop for farmers confronted with COVID-19 outbreaks. He said many farmers are taking on added risk this year to ensure Canadians have enough to eat this winter.

“That’s just the unfortunate reality,” he said. “We’re not looking for a handout. But we want to know that they have our backs. If I get halfway through the harvest and I’m hit with an outbreak, well, I’m just taking a real risk.

“We’re really sticking our necks out. But growing food is the right thing to do, and I need to know someone has my back just in case.”

Latest National Stories

Advertisement

Story continues below

News Near Tillsonburg

This Week in Flyers