Waterloo region raspberry crops show mixed success: Andrew Coppolino

The season for local raspberries is a short one, running essentially between July and September, but thanks to the weather and a tiny insect, the luscious fruit may be hard to find this summer.

Between the weather and the fruitflies, some crops are mush

Mike Strathdee reported he was "fortunate to have a great haul in Kitchener" of raspberries in a year when commercial crops are facing rainy weather and fly infestations. (Mike Strathdee)

The season for local raspberries is a short one, running essentially between July and September, but thanks to the weather and a tiny insect, the luscious fruit may be hard to find this summer.

This year's Ontario raspberry crop has been knocked out in many places by wet, rainy weather and a fruit fly called spotted wing drosophila. The combination of the two has ruined some of the season's harvest, according to Kevin Schooley of the Ontario Berry Growers Association, a volunteer growers' association dealing primarily with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and focusing on marketing and research into growing berries in Ontario.

"From what I've seen, excessive amounts of rainfall have meant fruit isn't as firm as it should be and then there has been some issues with spotted wing drosophila. It's a pest that has been here for about the last six years. It doesn't over-winter here in Canada but what happens is if we have a colder winter it kills off a little bit more and they're slower developing in the spring and populations aren't as large," Schooley said.

Millar Berry Farm in London has lost its entire raspberry crop to the Spotted Wing Drosophila (Matt Millar )

In monitoring the pest, along with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Schooley says that while the bug isn't necessarily new to Ontario, the difference has been that the flies were active two weeks earlier than normal and therefore able to attack raspberry crops earlier.

The fly may start out in small numbers but it reproduces and builds its numbers up and if the berry harvest is delayed, the flies attack it.


Part of a group of berries called caneberries that grow on thin, thorny stalks that look like canes, raspberries are found across temperate northern regions of the world.
(Matt Millar )

They are a compound or composite fruit in which a single flower can have more than 100 ovaries, each of which produces its own little mini-fruit and seed around a core membrane. Like Velcro, fine hairs hold the little fruits together.

Mary Rose Ivanco, of the online farmers' market Bailey's Local Foods, says that so far they have had good luck sourcing the hard-to-find local berries.

"The farm we work with in Vineland, Ont. had great raspberries this year," said Ivanco, suggesting that raspberry aficionados may yet be able to eat their fill or make raspberry pies this summer. "There may be one more good week, and then again in the fall."

But that's not the case for all raspberry patches. Gillespie's Garden, a Cambridge producer, watched as an anticipated good crop of raspberries was damaged.

"We had a huge crop, and we got some of the berries picked," Lauren Gillespie said.

And then the drosophila trouble happened. "We had a few flies to begin with. Once they get in, you can't get them out and most of the crop was lost," she added.

It was the same for Trevor Herrle-Braun at Herrle's Country Farm Market just outside of Waterloo, Ont. He says he watched the berries turn mouldy very quickly.

"The bug has been a problem and this rainy, wet weather isn't helping at all," said Herrle-Braun.

Fall outlook

Schooley says the drosophila population will continue to grow this summer. Depending on weather conditions, it could continue to be a significant problem for raspberry crops.

"It's hard to predict," he said. "Normally, it continues to grow in numbers and hits a peak at some point and then drops off. If I were a grower, I would be concerned and trying to do the best management I could over the next few weeks."

"Drier weather in August will certainly be welcome," said Herrle-Braun, adding that it might just be enough to change the raspberry landscape to rosy red. 

"I'm hoping things turn around in a week or so when the fall varieties start," he said. 


Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.