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Spring is an exciting, if nervous, time of year for fruit farmers

Updated: May 31

By Luke Edwards

Even though he spent late April nervous that a spring frost could kill off many of the blossoms that would otherwise develop into the delicious fruit his family has farmed and sold for 40 years, Dan DeVries had to admit he loves spring.

“Spring is the best time of year,” he said. “Seeing the potential for a new crop.”

A life on the farm and in the orchards hasn’t dulled the wonder DeVries feels when he sees the peach, plum and other fruit trees come back to life, with tiny buds that signal future fruit.

“Creation is an amazing thing,” he said.

Spring 2024 reminds DeVries a lot of 2012. Speaking in one of his family’s orchards in Fenwick just as a frost warning enveloped the Niagara region, DeVries said the trees were a couple weeks ahead of normal. Back in 2012, a late cold stretch following a similar ahead-of-schedule spring spelled doom for much of the fruit, killing it before it even really started.

The hope in 2024 is that technology like the DeVries’ nine frost fans and applications of zinc and a seaweed extract thought to protect trees will be enough to make the difference. Fortunately, where 2012 saw a dry winter and spring, there’s enough moisture this year to give tender fruit growers like DeVries some optimism.

“We mitigate risk as much as possible, and leave the rest up to God,” he said.

If the orchards make it through the late frost risks of late April and early May relatively unscathed, though, it could set up a good year for fruit crops in Niagara, with tight clusters and other signs pointing up.

Tree fruit might be a ways away, but DeVries said customers to their Canboro Road market can expect to find local asparagus soon, with the DeVries’ own strawberries not too far behind.

While they’ve always sold fruit on the farm the market in its current form is a relatively new addition. But it has quickly grown to become a major source of revenue. The wholesaling part of the farm may still be the biggest revenue generator, but DeVries said it’s pretty close to being a one third split between the wholesaling, their own market and the various markets and roadside stands where DeVries fruit can be found.

It’s a far cry from when his father, Leo, decided to chase a long held passion and started the farm after working as a carpenter most of his life. DeVries said he doubts his parents or anyone in the family could have predicted what would become of the farm.

They began expanding in the early 2000s, and the on-farm market can trace its roots to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were able to be there for our community and provide food,” DeVries said.

The market now sells all the basic staples a family would need for their weekly grocery shop. It’s also allowed them to host events like the upcoming Mother’s Day Market, which runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“It’s always been a real hit,” DeVries said.

A devout family, DeVries said they’ve always wanted to support the community. They’veheld fundraisers for various organizations and individuals.

And DeVries said he hopes that community mindedness will go both ways, not just for his family’s farm, but for all the families and farmers who grow the food we eat. That’s because late frosts and wonky weather is only one of the potential sources of trouble for farmers.

Rising input costs and the seemingly relentless pressure of development can also keep farmers like DeVries awake at night. DeVries said Niagara is special because of what it can grow, and he wants to see it kept that way.

Drive down just about any rural road in the region, he said, and you are likely to come across a farm, roadside stand, or both.

“We need community support to keep that happening,” he said.

All those big picture things could keep a person busy full time. But for farmers like DeVries, there’s still the day-to-day work to do on the farm. Heading into May, he said they had a good handle on pruning, and the coming days and weeks would see them finish that work off and also keep an eye on spraying needs. A new Intelligent Spray Application sprayer DeVries bought a couple years ago uses the latest technology to apply spray in a hyper focused and precise way - to both save money and be more environmentally conscious. It’s another investment that DeVries hopes to pay for itself in three to five years with reduced spray costs.

From there it’ll be keeping an eye on the weather. The rest of spring and early summer doesn’t need to be particularly warm, DeVries said, but sunny skies helps things along and timely rains will be welcomed.

First crop estimates expected in June

With spring often bringing uncertain weather, Ontario Tender Fruit manager Sarah Marshall said crop estimates don’t typically happen until early June.

“We are currently a bit earlier than last year, based on bloom in certain crops in certain areas, but not all areas of Niagara are in full bloom yet,” she said in an April 23 email.

“Until we get through whatever is going to happen in May into early June (if colder than last year, could influence timing) we really won’t know for sure.” 


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