It’s shaping up to be a good year to be a fruit grower in some parts of Manitoba. But it’s a total loss for others.
The Jochums could canoe over their strawberry fields this July at their Blue Diamond Berry Farm near St. Francois Xavier.
“We’ve completely lost the crop,” said Crystal Jochum, of the family farm’s 20 acres of strawberries completely flooded out by the rising Assiniboine. They’ve been looking out at a sea of water for nearly three months and haven’t seen levels drop yet, said Jochum.
“The water is up to three feet deep in some places,” she said. This would have been Blue Diamond Farm’s 20th year in production and the fields looked healthy this spring – before the water arrived.
And it isn’t just the Jochums’ 2011 season lost. Unable to plant new plants for next year, they’re going to miss another season in 2012. The fast-running water over the fields all these weeks also has them worried about the condition their fields will be in once the water recedes.
“We’re not sure what it’s going to look like,” she said. “It’s going to be a big cleanup, that’s for sure.”
Prairie Fruit Growers secretary Waldo Thiessen said he knows at least three Manitoba growers in the same predicament.
Growers along both the Assiniboine and Red rivers have lost their entire production to the flood waters this spring, he said.
“They’ve been badly affected,” he said.
GOOD CROPS ELSEWHERE
Those flooded-out growers can only look on this summer as other fruit growers around the province harvest what are looking to be good crops of saskatoons, raspberries and other soft fruit crops.
In many parts of the province “a lot of the fields are doing very well,” Thiessen said. The rush began last week for strawberries with the recent heat wave bringing most fields quickly to maturity after a later start. Customers were pouring through the gates last week.
Raspberries, which also look abundant, are likely about a week away yet, he said July 11. “I did see a few red ones already but maybe towards the end of the week if it stays hot. People I’ve talked to say it’s a good-looking crop for the raspberries.”
Some saskatoon growers were also picking the week of July 11, Thiessen said. Many have plentiful fruit, although others said picking time for saskatoons was still a week to 10 days away last week. Some growers have also been dealing with entomosporium leaf and berry spot, a plant disease that picks up in conditions of high humidity and rainy conditions.
“The growers who could get their spraying done are fine,” Thiessen said. “But for those who couldn’t get it done, the entomosporium has really done a lot of damage.”
Excessive precipitation combined with wet soil has also resulted in more incidence of iron chlorosis in fruit crops, according to a report prepared by MAFRI provincial fruit crops specialist Anthony Mintenko. Typically, iron deficiency chlorosis is a common problem in fruit trees and certain ornamental and shelterbelt species in high lime calcareous or heavy clay soils.
The first symptom is a gradual yellowing of the tissue between the veins on the younger leaves while the veins themselves tend to stay green. If the condition persists and worsens it can reduce fruit yields and in very severe cases can kill the plants.
Meanwhile, berry pickers eager to get picking are urged to call ahead to the farm they want to visit to ensure berries are available. The PFGA urges visitors to check their website on the status of growers’ crops.
They no longer operate a berry hotline with a live operator. Instead anyone calling the hotline now hears a message urging them to visit the website. They decided to stop manning the line after noting calls declining over the last couple of years as more customers now go directly to the website, Thiessen said.
The Prairie Fruit Growers Association website is www.pfga.com.
– CRYSTAL JOCHUM, BLUE DIAMOND BERRY FARM NEAR ST. FRANCOIS XAVIER