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Prince County strawberry growers see effects of June frost

A healthy strawberry blossom, right, and a freeze-killed blossom.
A healthy strawberry blossom, right, and a freeze-killed blossom. - Millicent McKay

SUMMERSIDE – It’s been a season of unexpected results for strawberry growers like Matt Compton.

“We were expecting to be in full production by now. We’re into the second week of July and last week we had incredibly hot weather and that usually brings out our red berries. But a week later we still have green crops,” said Compton, owner of Compton’s Very Berry Patch/Compton’s Vegetable Stand.

In early June, Compton posted on social media about the heavy frost that hit the Island and strawberry plants. 

Matt Compton, Compton’s Very Berry Patch/Compton’s Vegetable Stand, says while yields are lower than past years, there are still lots of strawberries to be had.
Matt Compton, Compton’s Very Berry Patch/Compton’s Vegetable Stand, says while yields are lower than past years, there are still lots of strawberries to be had.

“We’re over a week late into harvesting. This has been caused by the freeze and the cold temperatures. We’re probably down about 30 per cent of our crop.”

Compton says he’s lucky Summerside and surrounding areas were only subject to one major freeze.

“There are growers I know down east that are down 80 to 90 per cent because they had three or four killing frosts. So not only is it affecting the product growers can put out, but it’s also affecting the amount of fruit that is available on the Island.”

Looking out at his field on Dekker Road, Compton continued, “This section to the right is our early season crops. Really, we should be over to the left and onto our mid-season crops. It’s caused a very late and abnormal season.” 

It’s not just difficult on the crops, he said.

“You know where you’re supposed to be at this time of year, so it’s hard on the head when you’re not there. July 1 is usually when we are booming and have product going out. But in this case, we haven’t touched our late season crops and barely any of the mid-season berries too.”

Compton assures there will be plenty of berries as the season continues.

This year a quart of Compton’s strawberries will cost $5, due to the lower crop yield he explained.

Elmsdale’s Rennie’s U-Pick Strawberries was also effected by the freeze.

“We lost some plants to the winter kill. We had no snow the first of the season so that played a part,” said Alan Rennie, owner of the establishment.

Snow acts as a natural insulator for strawberry plants. Growers cover their plants with straw and other materials to protect them from frost and when snow falls it acts as another level of insulation.

Rennie’s U-Pick Strawberries has been operating for 55 years. In his time, Rennie says he hasn’t seen a freeze this bad.

“We’re about seven to 10 days late in starting and that could represent about 25 per cent of the crop. From the freeze that occurred in June we lost about 70 per cent of the blossoms that were out.”

The white blossoms ultimately produce the red strawberry fruit. Frost is a danger to the blossom but doesn’t impact the plant’s foliage.

Rennie say’s his crops’ yield is lower than past years.

“There’s certainly a toll on the earlier varieties, but our later varieties will yield just as well.”

He says the establishment’s U-Pick isn’t open daily like past seasons because of the low yield but is open and operating.

“It’s a difficult situation. But word has spread pretty well about the situation we’re facing.”

Prices for a quart of Rennie’s strawberries has increased by 50 cents, with the cost at $4. He says it’s due to the lower yields.

“We’ve charged $3.50 for the past little while. I’ve been behind the times in raising my prices. But with the lower number we’ve had to raise them a little.”

Millicent.mckay@journalpioneer.com

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