Nova Scotia

Destructive strawberry virus under control in Nova Scotia

A strawberry virus that devastated Nova Scotia crops last year is under control, a specialist testified during a legislature committee on Thursday.

Crop specialist John Lewis blames virus on climate change

Last year the government 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.

A strawberry virus that devastated Nova Scotia crops last year is under control, a specialist testified during a legislature committee on Thursday.

Strawberry specialist John Lewis testified before a Nova Scotia legislature resources committee. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The destructive virus — the result of two known viruses combining into a new, complex form — was spread by a strawberry aphid. The virus weakened plants to the point where the berries were undesirably small, or the plant failed to produce berries.

At one point, the virus seemed so bad the future of the nearly $18-million industry was up in the air.

John Lewis, crop specialist with the Crown corporation Perenniasays the "vast majority of this year's crop is clean."

"I'm amazed actually how fast we rebounded...There's huge demand for Nova Scotia stock right now," Lewis told the committee.

He says the stock is now "the best" some growers have ever seen. Lewis says virus-tested stock is valued by strawberry growers and buyers.

"I'm seeing probably about a 15 per cent increase in our acreage right now and I attribute it largely to out virus testing program," he said. 

The strawberry specialist says climate change caused the outbreak last year.

The same virus is now affecting Quebec.

Lewis says that translates into huge potential for Nova Scotia nursery stock growers.

"If you've got virus-tested stock that's very reassuring for somebody...They're going to go with our tested stock," he said. "I'm just putting myself in the mind of a grower."

Lewis says the province is bolstering its quality assurance program for strawberry crops.