A cool spring has put a damper on this year’s strawberry crop, but growers hope a delayed start to the season will lead to a longer finish for what’s traditionally the first of the summer berries.
Normally, Maan Farms in Abbotsford would be two-thirds through its first pick by early June. This year, cool temperatures mean it is just about to start
“You do have these complications, but I’ve just never seen it this bad,” says operations manager Amir Maan, who notes that many older plants are showing signs of damage from the wet, cold winter.
“The plants just don’t have fruit on them,” he says.
Cool spring temperatures interfered with plant development and hampered the work of pollinators, reducing fruit set. This means many growers are expecting lower yields, although the ripening fruit appears excellent.
“The fruit getting from the outside, it looks beautiful even though there is rain,” says Maan.
Katie Leek, operations manager at Emma Lea Farms on Westham Island, agrees.
“Our strawberry crop looks great so far this season,” she says. “The plants and the berries we see coming look very healthy.”
But the provincial crop will be down from the 2.6 million pounds harvested last year, prompting growers like Maan to investigate alternatives for what remains a popular crop.
While it will continue with field production for its popular u-pick, Maan Farms built a 2.5-acre greenhouse this spring with a vertical growing system capable of producing seven acres of fruit. The first plants went in March 14 and berries were ready by May 18.
“That’s been our saviour, to be honest,” says Maan. “With the greenhouse, we’re able to produce berries and our berries don’t get rain on them, our flowers don’t die, we don’t get frost damage.”
While the immediate forecast calls for a continuation of cool, wet weather, Leek hopes the weather will turn to allow Emma Lea to welcome visitors over the Father’s Day weekend.
“We are hoping the weather turns around and we can have a dry next few weeks,” she says. “We are hoping to have fresh picked strawberries and our u-pick fields open for the Father’s Day weekend!”
An extended season could also mean a better consumer experience.
“We’re hoping for the weather to calm down and that’s going to help with the quality as well,” says Maan. “Something that stays on the plant longer and slowly ripens will have even more sugar content so hopefully it’s going to be more flavourful. So the customer experience should be higher.”