Strawberry season so sweet it's posing picker problem for producer
'It's scary. You'd hate to see berries rot in the field because you can't get them picked'
A few years ago, Jackson Lore never would have predicted that having too many strawberries would be a problem.
After more than 30 years growing strawberries on his small farm in Middle Clyde River, near Shelburne, N.S., his yields were beginning dwindle. Four years ago, his crops were threatened by a virus that put strawberry farms across the province at risk of ruin.
But not only has Lore persevered — he's prospered.
Lore's strawberries ripened a week early this season and he estimates he'll have three times more than a normal year — his biggest crop in 25 years.
"Every time I walk out into that field I'm just amazed."
He said stores from Shelburne, Barrington, Lockeport, even Yarmouth, have been calling him like crazy for his strawberries.
"It's unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it," he said.
Lore credits switching from chemical fertilizers to compost for improving the soil biology of his field and turning his yields around.
"The fruit quality and size is way better," he said.
Jennifer Haverstock, a small fruit specialist with Perennia, a not-for-profit company that helps those in farming, fishing and food processing industries, said so far the strawberry season in Nova Scotia is looking good.
Pickers few and far between
Because of his crop is bigger than usual, Lore said he needs to hire more pickers. But he's has a tough time finding people willing to take the job on.
"It's getting harder and harder to get people to do agricultural work, it's all over the province," said Lore.
He said the age of pickers is now around 50, when 25 years ago it was mostly kids. His recruitment effort this year included putting a pickers-wanted job notice in the Shelburne high school, but he said it garnered little interest.
While Lore's farm is U-pick, he also needs to hire local people to work throughout the season.
"If you have a huge crop and you don't have pickers then what do you do?" he said. "I mean it's scary. You'd hate to see berries rot in the field because you can't get them picked."
Lore said his farm pays $5 per flat of strawberries. A good picker can make $12 an hour or more.
"One woman here last year at one point was making over $20 an hour. So there's potential."
Last week, Lore put out an urgent call on social media. His post said the strawberries were ripening fast and he was "in dire" need of pickers.
He said since then, he's had more uptake and should now have enough for the season.
"I think we're going to be OK."
With files from Cassie Williams