Destructive strawberry virus prompts U.S. imports
Sobeys says it can't keep up with demand for locally-grown strawberries
Canada's second-largest grocery store chain says it's had no choice but to import American strawberries after a destructive virus damaged 40 per cent of Nova Scotia's crop this year.
Sobeys took out a half-page advertisement in the newspaper on Thursday. It said it was trying but not having much luck keeping up with the demand for locally-grown strawberries.
"Growing conditions have been a real challenge for Maritime strawberry farmers and are local supply has been greatly impacted," the advertisement reads.
"To meet demand we have imported strawberries and will offer locally-grown berries wherever possible."
The destructive virus — the result of two known viruses combining into a new, complex form — are spread by the strawberry aphid. The strawberry aphid is a small, soft bodied insect that siphons plant sap.
The virus weakens plants to the point where the berries themselves are undesirably small, or the plant fails to produce berries altogether.
In April, the pest was detected at a farm in the Great Village area outside of Debert and approximately 81 hectares of strawberry fields were plowed or had plants cut out of the ground.
Several weeks later, Webster Farms in Cambridge said it had tilled 60 per cent of its strawberry plants in an effort to salvage this year's harvest.
'We are doing our best'
"We can't keep up with the demand for local, but we are doing our best," said Shauna Selig, a spokeswoman for Sobeys.
"We have reached out to our suppliers. Everything that we can possibly purchase locally, we certainly are."
Annie Kierans, with the Noggins Corner Farm Market, said local strawberries are disappearing quickly when they appear at the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market.
"Lots of people are coming in and are really excited about them," she said.
"They're going like wildfire."
John MacDonell, the provincial Minister of Agriculture, has said at least 40 per cent of Nova Scotia's strawberry industry, a sector worth about $18 million annually, has been damaged by the insect-borne virus.
"I know Sobeys has to make their decisions based on what they need to do," said Dwayne Schofield.
"As long as there are other options for people that are looking — and like for us, we started looking for the other options — and they're easily readily found."