Nova Scotia

Late frost puts blueberry farmers in even deeper hole

Two hard frosts have devastated much of Nova Scotia's wild blueberry crop. That damage comes after two years of low crop prices, leaving farmers bracing for a difficult season ahead.

Some large fields in Nova Scotia showing 'almost total damage to the blossoms,' according to association

Peter Rideout said the recent hard frost caused widespread devastation to wild blueberry fields in Nova Scotia. (Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia)

Nova Scotia's blueberry producers are bracing for a difficult year ahead after two hard frosts decimated much of the province's crop.

Peter Rideout, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia, said this week's sub-zero temperatures, coming on the heels of warm days that encouraged blueberry blossoms to open up, have caused widespread damage.

"The bloom became more advanced over a couple days, and those sensitive tissues at the base of those little blossoms [are] very sensitive to cold," he said. "Some large-producing, long-established fields are showing almost total damage to the blossoms."

The June frost has hurt fruit production in parts Nova Scotia. Apple growers in the Annapolis Valley have warned harvests will be down, and some vineyards have reported losing half of this year's grape crop.

Farmers already facing hard financial situation

Rideout said while most commercial blueberry producers have fields in various parts of the province and have avoided a total loss, "it's very serious for all of them, really, to one extent or another."

More than 115 million kilograms of blueberries were produced last year in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Quebec and Maine.

The damage in Nova Scotia comes on the heels of two years of low prices, during which cost of production outstripped what producers were able to get for their crops.

"Our farmers were going into this season … in a hard situation," said Rideout.

But burgeoning overseas markets and a decline in the oversupply of stored frozen fruit had producers "cautiously optimistic about the outlook for this crop," he said.

With the possibility of better returns on the horizon, producers invested in things like honeybee pollination.

"They had gone to additional expense, and now we're in this situation where they've spent money that maybe they didn't have on the hope of a good crop."

Most don't have insurance

Rideout said while about a third of farmers participate in the federal-provincial crop insurance program, it's expensive. The payouts are based on revenues from the previous year, which for blueberry producers "were very low."

As a result, said Rideout, "a lot of our producers weren't able to afford crop insurance and now at a time when they maybe have needed it the most."

Rideout said even before this week's frosts he had already been in discussion with the province about ways to help blueberry producers recover from the recent market downturn. He said Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell has expressed support following this week's devastation.

"We've been in immediate contact with our stakeholders in the industry, including growers and farmers who are seeing impacts," the Department of Agriculture said in a statement released Friday. "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.

"Unfortunately, with our climate, this is not unusual for growers, and there is a suite of risk management programs available," said the department, referring to the insurance program. 

Rideout said it could take several weeks before the extent of the damage becomes clear. But in the long term, he's hopeful about the outlook for the industry. 

"[The situation] is not hopeless. You have to remember that we have a wonderful product," he said. "But we're in a deep hole right now."