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Cucumbers have been a good crop for the Pasztor family

Cucumbers are another option in diversification for south Norfolk farmer Arpad Pasztor and his family.

With the main farm right next to Lake Erie and on its sand, caring of the land has always been a top priority for Arpad Pasztor. He stands next to a spreader ready to apply mushroom compost to the ground in preparation for planting.

On the Lake Road in former Houghton Township, Pasztor is continuing the farming tradition started by his father Bill, who was a tobacco farmer.

Arpad continued growing tobacco and mentioned to some family members in the 1980s he would be interested in growing cucumbers. That word got back to a local Bick’s representative. Arpad had a call from Bick’s offering him a five-acre contract. He was a little hesitant, being in the middle of planting 80 acres of tobacco at the time. When he was told “now or never”, he decided to go for it.

“It’s a good thing I did the way tobacco went,” he reflected. “I had something to fall back on.”

Taking the tobacco buyout, he now grows 575 tons of cucumbers. In addition, with the help of his sons Andy and Mike, the Pasztors grow 850 acres of corn and soybeans along with ginseng, jalapeno peppers and acorn squash. They also custom plant and harvest approximately 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans.

The Pasztors have a 50/50 crop-share arrangement with German Mennonite families relating to the cucumbers. Each family maintains & harvests a five-acre plot of cucumbers. This requires them to pick 2 ½ acres every other day during the harvest season; which normally runs from mid-July to the first of September.

This arrangement works best for cucumbers because it gives an Incentive for the families to stay on top of their cucumber plot enabling them to pick the smaller, higher val-ued cucumbers. At one time, when still growing tobacco, he had his offshore labour help pick cucumbers and found the workers, being paid an hourly wage weren’t picking all of the prime cucumbers, but just taking the larger ones.

With #1 cucumbers – the prime pickle cucumber with a diameter of about 1-1/16 inch - worth over $800 US per ton and #4 cucumbers (the larger ones) worth only $20 US per ton, there is a huge incentive to aim for smaller cucumbers.

“These families have picked cucumbers for years,” Arpad said. “They know how to pick them.”

Normally the same families return year after year.

“They’re very hardworking people and I treat them well,” he said.

He presently grows the Parthenocarpic vari-eties of cucumbers.

“The advantage of them is they really yield,” Arpad said. These varieties are also self-pollinating.

The Pasztors will be cutting back their acre-age somewhat this year due to uncertainty about their labour situation. There are significant issues associated with the German Mennonite families who live in Mexico in the off-season returning to Canada due to the current Covid-19 restrictions.

Cucumbers have been a good fit for the Pasz-tor farming operation. Harvesting fills the void in the summer months; falling between the spring planting season and the fall grain harvesting season.

Many area farmers will know Arpad from his work with farm groups. He was the local chair for the former Ontario Corn Producers Association. He is also the chair for District 3 with the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, and has spent many years as a Director with the Norfolk Soil & Crop Improvement Association.

Farming right next to Lake Erie, the Pasztor farm is on Norfolk sand. The family learned early the value of looking after the soil by planting rye as a cover crop. That has continued along with oats, tillage radish and crimson clover being planted after harvest to protect the soil. The cover crops are disced under in the spring prior to planting. One of the latest experiments being tried is using mushroom compost in the spring to add matter to the soil.

“If you put money into the inputs, you will get good crops,” Arpad said.

That tradition has continued with the next generation as Mike and Andy also participate in the farming operation. The youngest son Adam is a diesel mechanic and doesn’t have an interest in farming.

Arpad’s wife Lorine is what he described as “an integral part of the operation.” She looks after the accounting and business part of the operation. She worked for the Bossy Nagy Group and has recently retired.

“She tells me when I can buy something and when I can’t,” Arpad joked.

On the subject of retirement, Arpad is scaling back and his sons are doing more and more. He is also a Pioneer seed dealer and Mike is working on taking that business over. 

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