Weather good for some Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows crops

Farm fields, like this one at the corner of Neaves and McNeil roads, need some water after the area’s driest August and September on record. - Collen Flanagan/The News
Farm fields, like this one at the corner of Neaves and McNeil roads, need some water after the area’s driest August and September on record.
— image credit: Collen Flanagan/The News

With unseasonably warm, dry weather continuing into mid October, local farmers are reveling in a large and late harvest.

However, the bumper crop comes with its own set of issues.

The Vancouver area experienced it driest August and September on record, according to Environment Canada data.

The Lower Mainland saw less than a tenth of its normal precipitation during the two-month span, with just 7.9 mm of rain falling compared to 92.6 mm on average.

At Environment Canada’s weather station at Pitt Meadows airport, only 11.0 mm of total precipitation was recorded from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

The warm, dry weather comes after one of the coldest and wettest months of June on record.

That meant a late start to the season for many farmers, including Heather Laity, who owns the Laity Pumpkin Patch on 128th Street.

“We planted late this year, but the pumpkin crop has come in really good thanks to the weather,” she said. “The pumpkins love that hot heat, so they’ve come in with nice color, deep oranges and green stems.”

As an agri-tourism business, Laity said the sunshine and warm weather benefits not only the crop they are growing, but helps attract better crowds.

Thanks to the warm sunny weather, the local tourist attraction had its busiest ever Thanksgiving weekend, and is already fully-booked for school groups for this season, with another three weeks to go until Halloween.

While dry weather this time of year usually translates into frost at night and can be deadly for crops, this year the weather has been too warm for any frost issues locally.

“We had a touch of frost down here a few weeks ago, but it didn’t do any damage,” said Laity. “They took it just fine and it didn’t bother them at all.”

While the warm weather has been beneficial to late harvest produce like pumpkins, early-ripening produce has had its own issues.

Despite the late start, warm, dry weather run in August caused the local blueberry crop to ripen early, according to Newton Sahota of Twin Berry Farms.

“They ripened up a lot quicker than they were supposed to. We had a near bumper crop, but we couldn’t get them off the bushes fast enough,” said Sahota, who owns 110 acres of blueberry fields in Pitt Meadows.

“We didn’t have enough labour to get everything done.”

That resulted in large quantities of berries that would have normally gone into the more lucrative fresh berry market being diverted into the lower-quality process market – for juice, jams and frozen packages –  instead because they were left ripening in the sun too long.

Sahota said Twin Berry Farms, like many blueberry operations in the Lower Mainland, is ripping out early-harvest varieties of blueberry plants in favor of later varieties to better stagger their harvest.

“We believe this trend of cold, wet springs and later summers is going to continue,” he said. “We are looking at five years before this is viable. It will hurt our bottom line in the next few years, but we’ll profit down the road.”

• The Haney Farmers’ Market features late season produce, including cranberries and pumpkins as the weekly outdoor markets continues every Saturday this month, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.. at Memorial Peace Park in Maple Ridge.

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