Patience will hopefully pay off sooner than later, as local strawberry growers begin to harvest their crops after a delay of nearly two weeks.
While local growers typically aim to have their crop ready by July 1, cooler weather in May and June has meant a delay and growers were forced to wait for the berries to ripen.
At the same time, though, growers seem pleased with the quality of this year’s crop.
Arny Nabuurs, of Nabuurs Gardens in Brudenell, said staff did some “light picking” last week, and the crop looks good so far.
“The fruit is still there,” he said. “We didn’t have any late frost issues and there was no winter kill to speak of.”
Mr Nabuurs pointed out there have been other years with late starts to the season.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and there’s not two years that are exactly the same. There are different situations and different circumstances every year.”
Nabuurs Gardens will not have a U-Pick this season.
Allan Coffin, of Coffin’s Berry Farm in Mount Stewart, said while this season has started at the same time as last year, this is the first year he’s had to delay the U-Pick part of it. But he still expects to have that ready by the later part of this week.
Mr Coffin says his crop is just “average” this year, but while frost greatly affected his 2018 crop, that wasn’t the case this time around.
“We’re grateful for the cool, damp weather as there was no frost damage,” he said.
Mr Coffin is also looking forward to a longer season. He says the delays in his early and late varieties mean the season will stretch over the next three weeks, and overlap with his raspberry crop.
Something that concerns Mr Coffin is the fact there are so few strawberry growers in the province. He says while Islanders love to get fresh local berries, the fact is PEI growers are unable to meet the demand. And Mr Coffin, who has already down sized from 18 acres to six in recent years, is concerned that once he and other growers retire, there won’t be enough younger growers to replace them.
“When my sister and I pull the plug, that’s it,” he said. “The younger generation isn’t interested.”
Matthew Compton, owner of Compton’s Vegetable Stand in Summerside, said there are currently six growers with over five acres, and a dozen or so with between one and five, and the overall number is dropping.
“Within the last five years, we’ve lost three good-sized growers,” he said.
Mr Compton was president of the PEI Strawberry Growers Association, but he said that organization folded because there weren’t enough larger growers to do what was required under government regulations. The growers do still get together on an informal basis, “around the coffee table,” he said.
Mr Compton said fewer acres means more pressure on current growers to increase their acreage, but therein lies another problem.
“Every grower would like to grow 20 acres, but they have to find the help to harvest it.”