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Niagara Falls
Thursday, February 29, 2024
Tender fruit growers keep an eye on weather amid winter chill
Nelson Thwaites, farm manager at Thwaites Farms, said warmer-than-normal temperatures in December won't affect the 2024 tender fruit crop. Richard Hutton
Phil Tregunno of Tregunno Fruit Farms said above normal tempertures in December has not caused problems for tender fruit trees. Richard Hutton

It’s a little too early for tender fruit growers to be pressing the panic button about quantity – and quality – of the 2024 crop, a Niagara-on-the-Lake farmer says.

“We haven’t had any super hot days,” said Phil Tregunno of Tregunno Farms. “Everything appears to be dormant still.”

Tregunno is also chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers.

According to the Weather Network, the average temperature across southern Ontario in December was 3 C. It was the first time since 2015 that the average temperature was that high.

The ideal time for tender fruit trees to bud is in early May, Tregunno said.

“If we get a cold spell and then it warms up again … you never know. It’s Canada,” Tregunno said. “There was another El Nino (year) where it got warm in late January, but that was a long time ago.”

Nelson Thwaites, farm manager at Thwaites Farms, agrees with Tregunno.

“There are no issues,” he said.

However, he cautioned that because temperatures now are dropping, there are concerns that if the mercury plunges too low, crop size could take a hit.

“If temperatures drop below (-20 C), you get buds freezing on the trees,” he said. “That could reduce this year’s crop.”

Peach and nectarine trees are most vulnerable to the extreme cold, “more than apple or pear trees,” he added.

While the weather throughout December was warmer than average, colder temperatures hit the region over this past week or so.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is forecasting a return to more seasonal below-freezing temperatures.

Thwaites said that fluctuation is reasonable.

“The swing was not cold enough to cause any damage, yet,” he said.

Sarah Marshall, manager for the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers, also thinks it’s still early to be worried.

And while the temperatures were mild throughout December, it’s not without precedent.

“Last December (2022) wasn’t really that cold. It was 15 C last Dec. 30,” she said. “People tend to forget.”

The fruit growers monitor “chilling hours,” the amount of time where temperatures hover just above freezing (between 2 C and 7 C) and trigger dormancy.

“We do the same thing with heat units (in the spring) to see when we get to a certain point,” Marshall said. “When will the first bloom be? The first harvest?”

Tregunno, meanwhile, said early blooms, while not necessarily desirable, are also not unheard of.

“It could have been in 2012 when one of these things led to an early bloom on April 10 or something like that. Ideally, we like it to be in the first week of May” or thereabouts.

Thwaites, however, said growers will be monitoring temperatures on an ongoing basis

The tender fruit industry is a multi-million dollar business in the province, with Niagara growers representing a substantial portion of that.

While figures for 2023 are not yet available, in 2022, 25.2 thousand tons of fruit (peaches, pears, plums, prunes and nectarines) were sold, up eight per cent over 2021 (23.6 thousand tons).

The value of the 2022 crop was $72.7 million, up 18 per cent from 2021 ($61.7 million).

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