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Canada - 'Catastrophic frost' damages New Brunswick blueberry fields

An unusually late frost is affecting blueberry crops across the province, with some farmers estimating 50 per cent of their fields were frozen and won’t produce fruit.

Temperatures were at record-breaking lows in New Brunswick on Monday morning, causing irreparable damage to blueberry plants, many just starting to bloom.

Tom Trueman, an eighth-generation blueberry farmer with hundreds of acres of fields in Aulac, called the low temperatures on Sunday night a “catastrophic frost.”

“It basically freezes the reproductive parts of the flower and it makes them sterile, so the plant is unable to produce fruit,” Trueman said.

He estimated at least 30 per cent of his crop is ruined but will have to wait to see if that number rises.

“The field was white with blossom, looking very nice, the bees were enjoying it, and now you can see it’s got a little bit of brown tinge to it, so that’s the dead blossom that is starting to show up on the top part of the canopy.”

John Schenkels, chairperson at Bleuets NB Blueberries, said fields across the province were affected, as well as in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

“It’s a very wide spread frost.”

“We still have to do a full assessment on it but a very significant frost and very concerning to all producers in the province.”

Schenkels, who is based in Miramichi, said temperatures dipped as low as –4 C.

“When it’s that cold for that long … it can cause a lot of damage very quickly.”

Until Sunday’s frost, Schenkels said the outlook for this summer’s berry yield looked to be average, but that is no longer the case. He said assessments are still being done, and the association will have a better idea of the widespread effects by the end of the week.

Schenkels is asking producers to check all their fields to get a better idea of the overall damage.

“Any loss is going to be hard on producers,” he said. “And the fact that it might be quite large — we’re talking about someone losing half their crop or more — that’s going to be very hard to stomach for sure.”

Growers make their investments in their fields in the year leading up to the harvest, so the money has already been spent, Schenkels said.

Record low prices were seen across the Maritimes last year.

Schenkels wouldn’t speculate about prices this year, but Trueman wondered if low yields might combat an oversupply problem experienced during the last few years.

“I guess the silver lining to every cloud is that the oversupply problem evaporated Sunday night.”

Trueman said the trick now is to save every berry possible.

“We’ve got to make sure that every one that’s left makes it into the box.”

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