Original Published on Nov 14, 2022 at 23:28
By John Nagy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
THUNDER BAY, ONT. — With pumpkins finding their way to compost drop-off bins in the wake of Halloween, it’s a stark reminder that the outdoor harvest season is over.
The Thunder Bay Country Market, along with the Goods and Co Market, are two of the major retailers selling the bounty produced by the farms on the outskirts of Thunder Bay throughout the year, but a slow thaw in the spring led to a later than usual planting season.
Throw in rising prices for fuel, fertilizer, herbicides, water, equipment and repairs and it was a burden both farmers and consumers are continuing to endure in this record-breaking inflation period.
Belluz Farms co-owner Kevin Belluz said they didn’t raise their prices this year because most of their harvesting is done by hand at their Slate River farming operation.
“We haven’t done anything this year actually yet on our prices on our Belluz Farms products just partially because we’ve always tried to plan ahead for things,” Belluz said. “A lot of our inputs and things we were able to purchase ahead of time for this year because with (the COVID-19 pandemic) and supply chain issues we were worried about that anyways. We weren’t heavily disrupted by that.
“We also do a lot of things by hand at our farm still, so we don’t use as much diesel fuel or gasoline as some farms would. Maybe if they’re doing a lot of mechanical harvesting, a lot of the bigger farms would use machines to harvest their things and we kind of do more of it by hand. That’s another variable that didn’t affect us as much as maybe other farms would have.
“Looking forward to next year, it’s going to be interesting to see where our prices are at for some of those input costs for us for the future as well.”
Kevin Hofland of Pura Vida Farms, who runs his two-acre hobby farm out of Hymers from May to October, also didn’t have an increase on his products.
“We actually kept our prices the same this year,” said Hofland, who lamented about the high cost of diesel the farming community is facing. “We probably should have raised them, but we didn’t.”
Hofland sold his approximately 20 products at the Thunder Bay Country Market from the spring through last month before shutting down for the winter.
Hofland’s goods included tomatoes, turnips, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, kale, zucchini and micro-greens among others.
The Belluz Farms website produced a what’s in season guide that goes from May (greenhouse plants, herbs, lettuce and greens) to July (strawberries, raspberries, saskatoons, carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbage, onions) to the fall (pumpkins and winter squash) for harvest dates.
The guide points out that it is a general directory as harvest dates can have a two- to three-week swing due to weather conditions.
Concentrating mainly on grains, the federal Liberal government made changes to its agricultural Advanced Payments Program in April which saw Canadian farmers receive all money upfront to help cover costs for the planting season instead of receiving advance payments in two instalments.
The previous month, the federal government had placed a 35 per cent tariff on fertilizer imported from Russia and Belarus during the early stages of the invasion of Ukraine.
Some farm operators feel the upfront planting season costs payment in April doesn’t make up for the increased fertilizer cost that the tariff has caused.
Bernie Kamphof, the recently re-elected councillor for the Municipality of Oliver Paipoonge and co-owner of Kamphof Farms Ltd., is a dairy farmer who grows grain to feed his cattle.
“I wouldn’t be eligible (for that program) for the commodities that I’m growing,” said Kamphof, the past president of the Thunder Bay Soil and Crop Improvement Association. “I grow grain, but all the grain I’m using I’m putting through my dairy cows. I don’t sell it directly.
“There are a number of other local farmers that do grow quite a bit of grain for sale and they might be using it, but that’s not something I’m familiar with.
“The biggest impact for my farm as far as all the strife and turmoil (from Russia’s occupation of Ukraine) is fertilizer prices and fuel prices, but fertilizer prices have gone through the roof and that’s because some supply comes from that part of the world. Russia supplies a significant portion of the world’s fertilizer and there’s also demand changes.”
In the winter, Belluz’s year-round farm operations grow vegetables in a greenhouse warmed by burning wood chips, while Kamphof is busy spreading manure in the fields now before taking on the winter chores of feeding the cattle as well as maintaining and servicing the farming equipment.