Farmers in South Delta are crossing their fingers for plenty of sunny weather over the next couple weeks so they can finish harvesting their fall crops.
Many are still stinging from last year’s devastating harvest season, when Lower Mainland farmers watched their cash crops rot in soggy fields after record-setting September rains.
“None of us could handle back-to-back disasters,” said Jack Bates, who runs Tecarte Farms, a 450-acre potato, blueberry and dairy operation in South Delta.
Harvesting was slowed down by last weekend’s heavy rainfall. As of Wednesday, Bates estimated he had about 50 acres of potatoes yet to gather. It should take 10 solid days of work to complete and dry weather is crucial.
“You basically have to sift the potatoes out of the dirt, and if it’s sticky and muddy then things don’t sift very well,” he explained. “Even now, with only part of the harvest done, we certainly need some good weather to make this year a successful year for farmers.”
Barring a weather disaster, he anticipates a pretty average season.
“I think the crops are fairly good overall,” he said, estimating his farm should yield some 20 tons of potatoes per acre.
Farmers planted their crops late due to a wet spring, and July wasn’t as hot or sunny as usual. That will affect the size of some potato varieties, Bates said, but there’s no point leaving them in the ground any longer.
“You just have to take a smaller crop. They basically quit growing anyway once you get into September.”
Still, compared to last year’s disappointing yield, this season is a success.
“Last year we struggled for two weeks to dig about 15 acres,” Bates said. “It was very costly and we were lucky we have two fields we could get in. There was growers last year that didn’t harvest one potato.”
Peter Guichon and his family run Felix Farms in South Delta, one of B.C.’s largest producers of vegetables. Guichon estimated he left some 9,000 tons of potatoes in the ground last year.
With about 200 acres to go, he’s a little less than halfway through harvesting. Like Bates, his operation was also slowed down by last week’s rain.
“Really, the next two weeks is going to determine how well we do, as far as getting stuff out of the ground,” Guichon said. Despite delayed planting, he says the crop quality is good.
“For the amount of days the stuff was in the ground, I thought it did fairly well.”
Felix Farms is also harvesting pumpkins now, but since they sit on top of the ground, dry weather is not as critical for their success.
In July, the provincial and federal governments announced funding of $175 per acre for potato and vegetable producers in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to help cover the cost of restoring water-damaged crop land. That per-acre amount includes a payment for the disposal of products spoiled in storage and the cleaning and disinfecting of equipment and storage bins.