Where have all the growers gone? Strawberry acres down by almost half

Only about a dozen commercial strawberry growers remain on P.E.I., down from 20 a few years ago.

Island strawberry growers retiring faster than they're being replaced

'I'm probably about the youngest grower on the Island that grows any amount of acreage right now,' says Matthew Compton, 32. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Strawberries are becoming a rarer crop on P.E.I., as the acreage has plummeted in recent years as has the number of growers.

"It concerns us," said Matthew Compton, president of the P.E.I. Strawberry Growers Association.

"We want Island berries in Island homes. We don't want Nova Scotia berries or other berries because we know we can put a good product on the table."

Growers retiring

P.E.I. had 41 hectares of commercial strawberry crops in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. That's down from 79 hectares in 2011.

About a dozen commercial growers remain, down from 20 a few years ago, according to Compton. P.E.I.'s strawberry growers are getting old and retiring.

Strawberry fields not forever. A productive field lasts three years then needs to be replaced. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"I'm probably about the youngest grower on the Island that grows any amount of acreage right now," said Compton, 32. "They're a highly managed crop … it takes a year to establish a strawberry field and in that year you're clipping  blossoms off plants, you're tucking in runners, you're managing it, keeping weeds out. It's a lot of work."

'We see where the opportunities are for us to grow'

Still, he said Island strawberry producers who continue in the game are looking for opportunities. Compton has doubled the size of new strawberry fields he's planting this year, with an eye to boosting production.

Compton has doubled his planting of new strawberry fields this year, as he ramps up production to meet demand. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"We've seen the demand. We see where the opportunities are for us to grow and me, as a young farmer, you have to take the opportunity where it's met and grow your farm to be sustainable for the future," said Compton.

And he's hopeful for this season's crop.

U-pick opportunities may be fewer due to the decline in acreage. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"The blossoms are there," said Compton. "The bees are in the field working now so just it's just a matter of time."