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Ontario strawberry growers ask for more provincial support

Growers in Southern Ontario have begun harvesting field-grown strawberries. "This means fresh strawberries are already coming from the Niagara region and also the Chatham-Kent/Leamington area," says Morris Gervais of Barrie Hill Farms in Springwater, Ontario, noting that reports indicate a good crop this season. He also says that the rest of the province is coming along quickly with Eastern Ontario likely in full production by June 15th as well as other parts of the province.

In all, this is about a week earlier than average for the harvest of Ontario field-grown strawberries.

As for demand, it is always strong for Ontario strawberries. However this year particularly, Ontario growers are feeling the pinch from increased costs such as labor, fuel, and more. "Our prices are up and it's difficult to extract a higher price back out of the market because, over the last several years, there's been real pressure from cheaper, imported product," says Gervais. "So while people love their Ontario berries, pricing could be challenging," he says.

Ontario versus other provinces
While growers across North America are challenged with those increased costs, the state of growing in Ontario is uniquely challenged. "It's increasingly difficult for Ontario growers to pencil out profits," he says. He adds that efforts such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent criticisms of food prices in Canadian retailers have in turn put even more pressure on its prices.

How does this situation in Ontario, the second largest province in the country, differ from growing in other provinces across Canada such as Quebec or British Columbia? "In those provinces, there are provincial governments that are more supportive of agriculture than we see in Ontario in terms of support programs such as risk management programs," says Gervais, adding that in Ontario for instance, produce growers have been asking Ontario's agriculture minister for an increase in the risk management budget for programs the province funds. "They haven't changed those for several years and the amount of money hasn't been updated. With all the inflationary pressures, it's almost akin to a decrease in support," says Gervais. "It's not widespread good times in horticulture in Ontario. It's discouraging as fruit and vegetable growers to see big investments in electric vehicle battery plants and not agriculture."

Meanwhile, Ontario strawberry growers continue improving their growing practices to support their industry. "Growers have adapted to how we produce strawberries, and that includes greenhouse production of them," Gervais says. In open field production that also includes growing different varieties to extend the season and investing in hoop house/protected growing. This means the Ontario season now goes from late May until October.

For more information:
Morris Gervais
Barrie Hill Farms
Tel: +1 (705) 728-0571
[email protected]