June‘s killer frosts wiped out more than half of N.S. blueberry crop

The killing frosts of June have been “disastrous” for blueberries and the families who grow them.

In Nova Scotia, they say more than half of the crop has been lost and they‘ll be meeting with the province next week hoping for help.

Peter Rideout is the executive director of the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia. He says the day after the killer frost came, the association got a call from one of their buyers all the way from Japan.

That‘s how far-reaching the worry has been since the cold weather destroyed nearly half of this year‘s blueberry crops.

“The damage is as bad as we had feared,” Rideout says.

Growers have had surveyors inspecting the fields since the frost hit the night of June 3.

Tuesday night, growers heard their findings during a board meeting.

“At this stage, it looks like the crop damage, crop loss is something in the order of 50 to 60 per cent across the province,” Rideout says.

It‘s coming on top of two very difficult market years for the industry, so the loss is shocking for the growers and thousands of workers that make their livelihoods from the fruit.

That is why the association is hoping for some help:

“Agri recovery is available for disastrous situations outside the realm of normal crop insurance – and it was invoked,” Rideout said. “It‘s a federal program that has to be requested by the province, so we‘re speaking with the provincial Department of Agriculture and minister.”

The program was sparked five years ago when a virus infected Nova Scotia strawberry fields and again in 2016, two years after bacterial fire blight ripped through apple orchards.

Rideout believes the damage blueberry and grape growers are dealing with are on those levels.

Premier Stephen McNeil wasn’t making any commitments, though, but the province is talking with the industry.

“We‘re going to wait and see what the impact has been,” he said Wednesday.“The department is assessing that and they‘ll make a recommendation to executive council through the minister when they gather that information.”

There are more than 1000 blueberry producers in Nova Scotia.

Of that, about 300 are commercial growers who are getting most or all of their income from blueberries. And of that number, 107 are enrolled in the crop insurance program.

Some farmers are eyeing their damaged fields and trying to figure out what‘s the best option. It may not be worth harvesting at all, so some are talking about mowing the field now and hoping it will fruit again next year.

The association has plans to meet with the minister of agriculture on Tuesday.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.