New Brunswick blueberry farmers assess frost fallout

As losses pileup from the last weekend‘s frost, some New Brunswick farmers are assessing the damage with some even thinking about selling their farms.

Brett Reidpath says his berry farm has been in the family since the 1940‘s and this is the first time he‘s considered getting out of the berry business.

“It concerns me that this is the first year that I looked around and said … and questioned it,” Reidpath said.

His decision may depend on how the rest of the season plays out.

Murray Tweedy‘s blueberry fields in Carleton, N.B., don‘t look anything like they should this time of the year. They should be green with a snow white cover of bloom but instead, they are red, burnt by a heavy frost last weekend.

“The temperatures dipped so low for so long that even some of the unopened flowers were damaged beyond the point where they could ever be pollinated again,” Tweedy said.

He says irrigation is the only way to prevent frost damage in blueberries. He thought about it, but decided it wouldn‘t have made any difference.

“At -4 C, it doesn‘t matter if you irrigate or you don‘t irrigate, the blossoms are dead,” Tweedy said.

He estimates he‘s lost 70 to 80 per cent of his 410 acres and he’s not sure if it‘s worth his while to harvest the rest.

If he doesn‘t he won‘t be hiring any summer workers. He usually brings in 35 seasonal employees every season. No berries means no jobs for pickers.

It‘s the second year in a row Mother Nature has dealt a significant blow to his farm.

“Last year we went through a drought situation that cost our farm more than a half $1 million in revenue,” Tweedy said. “This will definitely be in excess of a $1 million loss.”

To help soften the blow, NB Blueberries and the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick are working on a plan to approach the province for financial help.

“We have to take some time to evaluate the damage realistically,” Reidpath said on behalf of NB Blueberries.“Frost damage is hard to evaluate at times. I think we‘re definitely going to have to have some discussions with the government.”

Blueberry farmers are also concerned about the bees they brought in for pollination. They may not have enough food to survive and some farmers are considering moving the bees to other locations so they don‘t starve.

With files from Jonathan MacInnis.