June frost wipes out 70% of Nova Scotia's wild blueberry crop

The majority of Nova Scotia’s wild blueberry crop is gone for 2018 and producers don’t know if they’ll even bother harvesting what remains.

'The economic loss at the farm level is very serious'

Blueberry growers in Nova Scotia have suffered through two years of low prices. This year's June frosts may have wiped out up to 70 per cent of their crop. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Two hard frosts in June have wiped out an estimated 70 per cent of Nova Scotia's wild blueberry crop and producers don't know if they'll even bother harvesting what little remains.

"The prices that are offered for the fruit will determine whether it is economical to harvest it or not," said Peter Rideout, the executive director of the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia.

It's been a hard go for wild blueberry producers in the province. They have suffered through two years where the cost of production outstripped crop prices.

"Growers were coming into this season at an economic disadvantage," Rideout said. "They already had a heavy debt load."

Now Mother Nature has kicked producers while they're down.

"The economic loss at the farm level is very serious," Rideout said.

Researcher David Percival says blueberry farmers will need financial assistance. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Damage will affect next year's crop

The frost will have an affect on next year's crops as it also damaged the new sprouts, said David Percival, a researcher at the Wild Blueberry Network Information Centre in Debert, N.S.

"There is going to be a trickle-down effect that we have to go through before things improve," said Percival.

What blueberry farmers need now, he said, is financial assistance to cover the cost of production, which can be up to $3,600 per hectare.

Colchester and Cumberland counties were hit quite hard, as well as some parts of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, said Percival.

"There's fields that were decimated as part of this frost," he said.

Back in June, Rideout had hoped the damage wouldn't be so bad, but after producers got out into their fields the story just got worse.

"Some fields would be nearly a total loss, there might be a few fruit that survived that would not be economical to harvest."

Government won't commit to financial aid

Rideout said Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell expressed support back in June.

"We have a strong relationship with our industry and will continue to work closely with them as we determine the extent of the impacts they are facing, and how we can help them mitigate those impacts," the Department of Agriculture said in a statement in June.

The department is still in the early stages of gathering information, said government spokesperson JoAnn Alberstat in an emailed statement, adding that this is not unusual in the province's climate and that insurance is available.

Many farmers were not able to afford insurance this year because of last year's low revenues, Rideout said in June.

Prices likely won't change

Despite the widespread loss, Rideout doesn't expect consumers will see much change in what they pay for blueberries at the grocery store. He said there may be fewer berries this year, but they will have to be priced competitively or else people won't buy.

Grape grower Pete Luckett is asking the province to allow him to bring grapes in from other regions to maintain production at his winery in the Annapolis Valley. (CBC)

Grape grower Pete Luckett said the buds are gone from many of his plants and he is expecting a reduced crop this year because of the late frost

Financial help from the province would be nice, Luckett said in an interview with CBC News at Six from his winery in the Gaspereau Valley.

"Every winery has took a big pill here," he said. "A big part of the financial crop has just gone up the spout."

Luckett is asking the government to allow him to bring in grapes from outside the province to keep up production.

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With files from Information Morning and News at Six