Nova Scotia

Annapolis Valley U-pick farms recover from plant virus of 2013

Three years after a virus devastated strawberry crops in Nova Scotia, the industry seems to be back on track.

Three years ago, a virus spread by the strawberry aphid devastated Nova Scotia's strawberry crops

In 2013, a virus spread by strawberry aphids threatened Nova Scotia's strawberry crops. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Three years after a virus devastated strawberry crops in Nova Scotia, the industry seems to be back on track.

David Bowlby, who owns a fifth generation family-run farm in the Annapolis Valley stood in his U-pick field at Dempsey Corner Orchards on Sunday, looking hard to find ripe berries among the strawberry plants.

The first weekend of summer brought good weather and enough customers to nearly pick his strawberry fields clean.

"We're off to a wonderful start, this dry weather, the mould and mildew and any of the rots we have to contend with are an absolute non-issue," he said. 

David Bowlby is the owner of Dempsey Corner Orchards in Alyesford, N.S. — a fifth generation family-run farm. (CBC)

"Only thing that could make it better is if it would rain every night for a couple of hours, but I can't seem to dial that up."

But in 2013, a new virus spread by the strawberry aphid, threatened to wipe out the Nova Scotia strawberry industry.

The virus weakened plants to the point where the berries were undesirably small or stopped producing berries altogether. 

Bowlby says they lost one batch of berries that was only a couple of years old, which should have had several more years of life left. 

Aphid monitoring program

The wasting disease isn't going anywhere, Bowlby says, but there is now a program in place that monitors aphids and lets farmers know if and when they should use insecticides. Bowlby says with their help, the problem is manageable.

"It's an industry-wide thing, so everybody has come together. Our extension staff at the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture, they're on top of it, our specialists at Perennia, Agriculture Canada has scientists dedicated to this work," he said.

"I know how hard and diligent those people are at getting on top of it ad providing timely advice to everybody so that farmers can take that to their fields and it's absolutely paying off big devidends."

Bowlby says this year his crops were slow to get started, but now things are off to a great start and the remaining crops so far seem promising.

"We have three varieties: the early, the mid and the late. The late ones are just starting to show some colour now, the early ones are picking wide open, the mid are all nice," he said. "All the berries do taste different so it's nice to try them all."

With files from Stephanie Blanchet