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Late Niagara fall harvest due to summer rain 0

Sarah Ferguson

QMI Agency Niagara

With weather conditions cooler and wetter than the previous year, local farmers say Niagara’s crops are good, but will be harvested a little later than usual.

“In the Niagara region, it’s been cooler and wetter. There has been a lot of larger storm systems that have dropped a lot of precipitation at once, which has caused a bit of a delay this year,” viticulturist Jim Willwerth said.

Willwerth said the cooler weather has caused this year’s harvest to be delayed a few weeks because the grapes needed to mature longer on the vine. Despite the delay, this year’s crop is healthy, and a good size, Willwerth said.

Willwerth is tracking the maturity of grapes across the Niagara Peninsula through Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute pre-harvest monitoring program. Now in it’s fourth year, the pre-harvest program, which is run by Willwerth, collects data like sugar levels, acidity and tracks ripeness indicators for the popular grape varieties in Niagara including Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

“Grapes mature at different rates, so what the program does is provide information to this industry so they have an idea how things are progressing to make good decisions for wine-making practices.”

For Jon Veenstra of Veenstra Farms in Sherkston said this year’s winter wheat crop was “fantastic” despite a difficult start.

“Last year, we had no rain from May to late August, and this year, we’ve had plenty of rain — almost too much.”

This year’s winter wheat crop, which was planted last fall and was harvested in July, was a record for Veenstra Farms, he said.

“We have about 500 acres of wheat. Usually you can expect 50 bushels per acre, but this year we averaged 85 bushels. That was due to a good fall and spring with plenty of rain.”

Veenstra said the farm has been blessed this year.

“We had a bit of a rough start with a mildly-cold spring. Some farmers had to replant, but we didn’t. It was a hard start and it looked bad but (the crop) came back.”

The next crop to be harvested in October is the farm’s soy beans and Veenstra said the crop “looks good” but he is hoping for a little less rain.

“There’s an old saying that goes, ‘When you have a good crop in the field, and it looks good, you have to remember, it’s not in the bin yet,” Veenstra said.

Because Niagara has had more rain than in previous years, he foresees a potential problem harvesting the soy beans.

“If the fields are too wet, we can’t go in there with the machines. We need a dry fall.”

Growing soy beans is becoming more popular as livestock farms slowly die off, Veenstra said, adding all the land used to produce hay for cattle, and is no longer needed, is great for growing soy beans.

“It’s an unlimited market and (soy beans) are fairly easy to grow compared to other crops like corn. The soil here east of the canal is suitable for it,” Veenstra said.

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