Strawberry fields hit by winterkill

Fruit growers’ association would like to see crop insurance made available to its 
sector to help stabilize incomes against these kinds of losses

Some strawberry growers will have fewer berries on offer this season, due to an unusually cold winter killing off many of their plants.

These growers are reporting losses of anywhere from 20 per cent to about half their crop gone.

Their fields couldn’t withstand the intense periods of cold we experienced this past winter, said Manitoba Agriculture’s fruit crops industry development specialist Anthony Mintenko.

“I think most strawberry fields have definitely had some winter injury,” he said.

“We had longer stretches of cold weather that we haven’t had for many years, so they’ve definitely suffered winter damage compared to a normal year.”

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Lack of snow cover was also a problem with wind often uncovering plants that had been insulated with straw cover.

“Snow is like added assurance of more protection and we didn’t have a lot of that,” he said.

Saskatoons were largely unaffected, however, raspberry growers also report some winter dieback or ‘tip kill.’ These plants usually produce again along lateral branches so should be OK, Min­tenko said.

Growers’ yield losses again this year will undoubtedly add to the argument Prairie Fruit Growers Association has put forward to have crop insurance extend to provincial fruit crops, too.

“It’s a knot in the gut,” is how Prairie Fruit Growers Association (PFGA) executive director Angie Cormier describes watching a year’s manual labour and inputs disappear.

It’s a punch in the pocketbook too. Financial losses will differ from grower to grower, given varying field sizes and customer levels, but without any means of recouping those losses, the hit can be hard, Cormier said.

“For example, if someone is bringing anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 an acre, and you lose half of it, that’s a signficant loss.”

Crop insurance would help stabilize incomes for these events for growers whose fields and incomes remain vulnerable to unpredictable weather as well as other forms of damage such as wildlife damage, she said.

The PFGA put a resolution forward through Keystone Agricultural Producers’ April advisory meeting citing the risk to growers who don’t have any coverage beyond their establishment year.

Basically their argument is that crop insurance would be a minimal cost and cost-effective approach to help grow the entire fruit production industry in Manitoba, says Darren Cormier, Cormier’s husband and business partner in the 10-acre strawberry field they’ve operated near La Salle since 2005.

Lack of insurance remains a deterrent to some who might otherwise want to expand, he said.

“If you asked cereal growers if they’d run their operation differently if they couldn’t get any crop insurance you can be sure the answer would be ‘yes,’” he said, adding many growers at this time grow fruit as a sideline to other things on the farm, or have off-farm jobs.

“You’re basically self-insuring if there’s a crop failure right now.”

PFGA’s resolution was supported by KAP delegates and calls on the farm group to lobby Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation to work with Manitoba Agriculture and the PFGA to develop an affordable insurance program for strawberry and saskatoon growers.

It also calls for sufficient data collected to help develop insurance programs for other fruit crops in Manitoba.

A report detailing the economic impact of the entire horticultural industry commissioned by Manitoba Agriculture will be released later this summer.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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