Berry-picking delayed as Manitoba farmers struggle with dry weather, late spring

Manitoba berry farmers are experiencing a slow start to strawberry season due to the spring weather. Connery's Berry Farm

Watching and waiting has become the norm for Manitoba berry farmers this year, with the strawberry season delayed by a cold, dry spring.

Connery Berry Farms’s owner Sam Connery-Nichol said their fields were still full of green berries and didn’t expect picking to begin until the middle or end of next week.

“I’m just waiting for them to turn red,” Connery-Nichol said, whose farm is just southeast of Portage la Prairie.

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The season has been delayed by a least 10 days, she said.

“Lots of people are phoning and of course you do all your advertising based on the norms of the season.”

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Attributing the delay in picking to a cold, dry spring, Connery-Nichol said the farm had to irrigate their plants due to the lack of moisture. That process also came with an added cost of labour and fuel to run water pumps.

Connery-Nichol stressed it was a better alternative to hoping for moisture that might not come.

“You would lose money by having the plants not have enough water.”

The berries at Connery’s Berry Farm have yet to ripen. Connery Berry Farm

Because of the size of Connery Berry Farms Connery-Nichol said staff see hundreds of people visiting the fields every day during picking season.

With high hopes for warm weather to continue the ripening process, Connery-Nichol expects “thick picking” will happen between July 13 and July 26.

“You get used to waiting for Mother Nature to tell you what you’re going to do.”

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Closer to Winnipeg, Boonstra Farms owner Murray Boonstra said he’s taking it day by day. The farm was open Thursday for strawberry picking but closed Friday and will likely open again Saturday or Monday.

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Boonstra estimates the spring weather has delayed his strawberry season by a week and he’s also hoping for warm weather.

“The strawberries need some heat now to fully ripen,” Boonstra said.

“It was just so cold this spring. Usually we get a week here or a week there. It just stayed cool, cool, cool.”

A lack of moisture also saw Boonstra irrigating plants but he said there was only so much that could be done due to the size of the farm and the number of fields.

Boonstra is expecting lower profits this year as dry conditions have led to fewer crops and smaller berries, with the raspberry plants taking a significant hit.

“They’re really dependent on rain. That crop is going to be 50 percent of what you’d normally see or less.”

After growing berries for 25 years, a resilient Boonstra said he’s used to the unpredictability of farming.

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“We’re pretty blessed here with the crops we do have and the amount of people that come here, we just take it in a stride.”

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May was on average two to three degrees colder for most of Southern Manitoba, said Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell.  Looking at day-to-day data for April, May and June, Hasell noted significant variability with many days where the temperature slipped.

She added the prairies as a whole have been experiencing dry conditions for months.

“I could go back probably a year even where you have many areas with agricultural drought throughout the prairies,” Hasell said.

“March was extremely dry throughout southern Manitoba. Looking at April, only a few spots here and there managed to get to near-normal precipitation.”

May was also dry according to Hasell, who said parts of the prairies saw a shift in June but with thunderstorms and showers that only hit some areas with rain.

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Residents in southern Manitoba are being asked to conserve water during hot, dry weather – Jun 8, 2017

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