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The Summer of the Weird, Wild and Bizarre

As a young teenager, I would spend many evenings out in the barn with my father


March 27, 2008
By Marg Land


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As a young teenager, I would spend many evenings out in the barn with my father and brothers, caring for my collection of animals while they looked after the pigs, calves and chickens. It was during this busy chore time that my father would sometimes share some of his philosophy on life – and farming.

“You have to be a gambler to be a farmer,” he would say. “You have to have nerves of steel because Mother Nature is the dealer and you never know what cards she is going to give you.”

While this may not be a very original analogy, it’s an adage that was certainly well illustrated by the summer of 2006, also known as “The Summer of the Weird, Wild and Bizarre.”

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It had all of the fixin’s of a great season: warm sunshine, timely spring rains, tolerable humidity. And then, the interesting weather arrived. July was a month of extremes here in Ontario. While northwestern parts of the province received little rain, south and central Ontario received a deluge of precipitation, leading to some of the most impressively green lawns ever seen in August. (Typically, no one in southern Ontario EVER mows the lawn more than once every two weeks during August – it’s usually too dead and brown.)

Along with the rain came a new problem for vine growers – downy mildew. Believed to have been whisked north on the wind from the sunny southern U.S., this nasty surprise soon had cucumber producers swearing in their morning coffees as it thrived in the wet, humid weather. And, while cuke producers in Michigan and Ohio had access to more current preventative chemistries, Canadian producers were left with a limited spray arsenal for combating the disease. Emergency clearance was eventually given but it was too late. The result? Only 15 per cent of the cucumber crop was harvested in some parts of the province.

For horticultural producers in Canada, the fun was just beginning.

August came and with it, reports of apple maggot in B.C., a province which has long managed to dodge the bullet when it came to this wide spread pest. Positive identifications by the CFIA were made in several locations within the Abbotsford area, leading to a province wide survey for the rest of the apple growing season and the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of the pest.

This hardship came on top of B.C. blueberry growers’ current battle against Blueberry Scorch Virus, which really started to make its presence known in 2006. The virus was first detected in the province in 2000 and it is now well established and widespread in the Fraser Valley with some blueberry plantings showing up to 70 per cent infection rates.

Quebec potato producers were also hit hard in August by the discovery of golden nematode in a 30-acre field just east of Montreal. The discovery led to the quick closing of the U.S. border to Quebec potatoes. Golden nematode, a species of potato cyst nematode, is an international quarantine pest due to the “significant” affect it can have on the yields of potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. It has been known to reduce yields by as much as 80 per cent and is very hard to eradicate as it can persist dormant in the soil for several decades.

Of course, Canadian producers shouldn’t feel alone. July saw reports of plum pox virus in New York State while Michigan received its first report of the virus in late August. The New York infection was discovered on a plum tree within a 108-tree orchard in Niagara County. The Michigan virus was discovered on a plum tree at Michigan State University’s Southwest Michigan Research and Experiment Center, located near Benton Harbor.

So, with all of this weird and wild stuff happening in Canadian horticulture, it makes one wonder – what’s next? Of course, according to my father, that’s what makes agriculture so appealing – you can never say it’s boring.

 

Letter to the Editor
Dear Editor,
I was reading your August edition 2006 online and focused on the article about the Electric Blanket technology. I really enjoyed the writing, and the word selection used to describe the technology for the grape vines. I did find a subtle numerical typo in the article though, that may have been a result of the text conversion into the website form. Near the end of the article, there is the reference to the past three winters being extremely cold, … but not “ –230˚C,” only –23˚C. I think everything ought to be dead at the –230˚C temperature, and it would be the closest anyone may have come to Absolute Zero (-273˚C = 0 Kelvin). Just a little technicality.
Thanks for publishing the excellent article.
Paul Barham, Kerber Applied Research Inc.

Editor’s response:
Dear Paul,
Thank you for pointing out the error in the online version of “Electric blankets on grape vines an option to fans, inventor says” (pg. 12, July/August 2006 Fruit & Vegetable Magazine). Due to the fickleness of technology, the degree sign “magically” changed to a zero when the article was transferred to www.fruitandveggie.com. The correct temperature does appear in the print version of the story. I appreciate your feedback.