Winter may stop farming, but it doesn’t stop Niagara’s farmers

Ever wonder what farmers get up to during the winter months between growing seasons?

For flower growers like Fred Meyers of Meyers Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it’s a busy time of year in the greenhouses, where business continues on unimpeded by the weather. Soon enough, they’ll be thinking about Easter.

It’s the same story for most in the poultry sector, where chickens are housed in barns.

Not much changes either for Dave Comfort, who raises sheep and cattle in Smithville, though he says mornings come much earlier in the winter. Cows are milked twice per day, and the roadway for milk trucks needs to be cleared of snow.

Comfort ensures that the water for the animals isn’t freezing over and that newborns are kept warm.

“It’s challenging all the time with livestock – throw winter into the equation and it becomes more challenging,” he said. “There are no snow days in livestock farming.”

For cash croppers like Jeff Barlow of Barlow Farms, much of the year is dictated by weather.

With December in view, Barlow still has corn to harvest from some of Niagara’s fields.

A good freeze is the perfect time to combine corn – stalks are brittle, the field doesn’t get torn up and equipment doesn’t get mucked.

After corn is harvested by late December, it’s put into grain bins for drying and storage.

“We do three things in the winter; the most important is maintenance,” Barlow said.

Most of the farm’s employees are full-time, so during winter they’re servicing every single piece of equipment.

The next item on the to-do list is shipping out grain.

After that, it’s hitting the fields to check on tile drainage, collect topographic map data for planning out planting and spread some clover as a cover crop.

“I do a lot of planning in the winter time,” Barlow said.

He needs to start thinking now about next year’s inputs, seeding, labour, training, logistics, upgrades, maintenance and marketing. “Right down to ordering T-shirts,” he said.

Come spring, it’s full tilt ahead once again.

At Hughes Vineyards in Vineland, Ed Hughes grows 25 acres of wine grapes.

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“Once harvest is done, which is usually no later than into the beginning of November, I start winterizing things,” he said.

He services his equipment, winterizes irrigation and sprayers and repairs any damaged vineyard trellising.

This year, he’ll also remove four rows of vines that are over-stressed from too many hard winters.

Come the beginning of January, Hughes said he’ll be full steam ahead, pruning out in the field six days a week for the coming growing season.

At Fenwick Berry Farm in the town of Pelham, they’ll be cleaning up around the farm until everything is buried in snow.

“Planning is already well underway for next year around here,” said Dave Klyn-Hesselink, who owns the operation with his wife Christine.

There’s a long list to work through: ordering trees and containers, putting marketing plans into place and cleaning up migrant worker bunk housing for public health inspections over the winter.

Right now they’re still packing up strawberry plants and doing some tillage. But what makes this year especially unique, said Klyn-Hesselink, is the mountain of COVID-19 paperwork.

“The nature of the work changes, there’s less pressure and there’s definitely more family time,” he said, meaning work weeks go down to 35 hours from 60.

By Christmas, the Klyn-Hesselinks aim to be done on the farm and fit in a week off before getting started again for the coming season.

“Farming is a lifestyle … you gotta be a particular person to farm; you don’t just turn it off, you’re always busy doing something on the farm,” he said.



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