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Lack of rain means smaller fruit, hot temps mean flavour is delicious

July 26, 2016

Hamilton Spectator
By Kelly Noseworthy

In a utopian world, tender fruit grower Phil Tregunno would have an inch of rain "once a week at night" throughout the growing season, a far cry from what we've had so far this summer.

Tregunno is a fourth-generation farmer in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He grows a variety of stone fruit on his 283-hectare farm including, apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums and table grapes. He said many of his colleagues are in the same situation.

But when Monday morning's thunderstorms rolled in, they were grateful the sky opened up and delivered 25 millimetres (about an inch) of much needed rainfall. "It helps" but it's not nearly enough to plump up the peaches still growing.

"The last time we had significant rain was two months ago," said Tregunno, who owns Tregunno Fruit Farms. "We've been irrigating and doing as much as we can, but it's much nicer when it comes from above." Tregunno is also the chair of Ontario Tender Fruit Growers.

When it rains, nutrients from the atmosphere are passed along to growing plants. Irrigation systems don't have quite the same effect and cost more. That added cost is passed along to the consumer.

What's more, don't expect big juicy peaches, unless we start seeing consistent rainfall weekly which David Phillips, weather guru at Environment Canada says he doesn't see rain in the near future, aside from a forecasted 30 per cent chance for showers Wednesday — which doesn't even motivate him to breakout the umbrella.

"It's a bubble that may rain in your front yard and not your backyard. It's not the rescue rains we need," he said. "The month will end in a deficit situation."

It's not all bad, though — peaches may be smaller, but as a result of consistent sunshine and hot temperatures, Tregunno said the fruit is bursting with flavour.

Phillips said 18.2 mm of rain fell in Hamilton Monday while Vineland had 29 mm, Font Hill had 35 mm, Welland recorded 27 mm and Fort Erie received 39 mm.

Cracks of thunder and teeming rains had rain gauges scattered across the city teetering. Hamilton Region Conservation Authority observes 10 sensors that record information in "near real time" on an hourly basis.

Of eight currently working, here are amounts recorded between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Monday:

Christie Lake reservoir – 7 mm

Valens reservoir – 10 mm

HRCA headquarters – 14 mm

Queenston Road – 12 mm

Red Hill at Barton Street – 21 mm

Joans Road and Barton Street – 15 mm

Lower Spencer Creek – 9 mm

Spencer Creek at Hwy. 5 – 21 mm

"We are in a level one low water situation," said HRCA water resources engineer specialist Jonathan Bastien. "The three-month total rain is between 60 to 80 per cent of long-term average."

Phillips said in the past four weeks, the city of Hamilton has had 36 mm of rain including Monday, where we should be closer to 80.

He said this is "not the beginning of more rain" and we can expect more warm weather to continue throughout the week.

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