Tuesday, September 27
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U.S. fruit sellers look to Canada for berry production amid drought and rising costs

US fruit vendors are looking north to Canada as severe droughts and water shortages continue to wreak havoc on crops in California, the largest agricultural state.

American berry giant Driscoll’s has teamed up with Sébastien Dugré, co-owner of Massé Nursery in Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, Que., to test whether commercial production of blackberries and raspberries is viable in the province.

Quebec’s colder climate can limit berry crops, so growing them on a larger scale is unusual for this part of Canada. Dugré began trials last year and was able to harvest nearly 80 tonnes of fruit this year.

“There is definitely a learning curve. Last year was tough, this year is much better, we have better fruit,” he said.

Dugré uses domed tunnels to protect plants from rain, while creating a warmer microclimate for plants. All of this helps it start earlier in the spring and finish later in the fall, extending the growing season.

“There are big companies interested in doing business in Canada…for me, it’s a good opportunity,” said Dugré.

While there may be unexpected benefits for some growing regions, the change in agriculture reinforces the vast challenges ahead as the world adapts to climate change and extreme weather that increases in frequency and intensity. .

Sébastien Dugré is co-owner of the Massé nursery in Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, Quebec. He partnered with Driscoll’s to test commercial production of blackberries and raspberries. (Karl Boulanger/CBC)

Changing conditions

Driscoll’s is also working with a few other growers in Ontario, while another US fruit seller, Naturipe Farms, is experimenting with blueberries and raspberries in Ontario and Quebec.

While there’s a lot of trial and error, partnering with bigger players can be worth it for Canadian growers, says Mary Doidge, assistant professor of agricultural economics at McGill University in Montreal. “Companies like Driscoll’s that have a bit more capital might be able to take those risks,” she said.

Changing weather conditions aren’t the only motivation for testing; high transportation costs make it relatively cheaper to grow and ship to Canada.

“Whether Canada is becoming more attractive has to do with conditions here and how they change, but also with conditions in places where these companies are already producing,” Doidge said.

In California, labor shortages are a growing concern. And with prolonged drought and water scarcity becoming more common, the costs of protecting crops and pumping water to farms are rising, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s, says that by using technology and the latest genetics, his company can actually have a viable season in Canada.

“We’re definitely going to increase and with more growers and more hectares…we think over time it’s going to be a good way to mitigate risk.”

Berry giant Driscoll’s conducted trials to see if blackberries and raspberries can be grown in Quebec’s comparatively colder climate. (Karl Boulanger/CBC)

Redraw the map

Farmers around the world are redrawing the agricultural map as the world heats up.

In Italy, the Morettino family run a coffee roasting business and have successfully grown coffee for the first time in the past year. They planted 60 Arabica coffee plants, which were able to adapt to the Sicilian climate – much further north than where coffee is traditionally grown near the equator.

“We are witnessing strong climatic changes that must make us think about the present and the future of our earth,” Andrea Morettino wrote in a blog post about the experience.

The Morettino family was able to successfully grow coffee in Palermo, Sicily for the first time last year. (Morettino)

Other regions should become less suitable for cultivation. For example, a study published in the journal Plos One earlier this year estimated that by 2050, Peru could lose more than half of its areas suitable for growing avocados due to climate change.

“As we get this volatility over time, not only is the temperature getting higher every day, but it’s really volatility, we’re seeing our production being disrupted quite significantly,” Bjorn said.

“When you have disruptions in one place, you have to have another place which can hopefully mitigate some of the consequences in the market.”

But while there are opportunities for Canada as weather conditions change, this country is not immune to extreme weather events. Drought has decimated prairie grain crops in recent years, while extreme flooding in British Columbia last November affected many berry farms. Yet producers like Dugré know they have to adapt to survive.

“It’s a never-ending process, adjusting every year and 30 years from now we’ll still be adjusting.”