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2022 a tough year for Crossfield-area berry grower

Alberta's berry pickers saw lower production through the summer season this year, the result of adverse weather conditions.
Berry farms in Alberta, including one near Crossfield, suffered from extreme weather conditions this summer.

Poor weather conditions this year, with a cool spring, hot summer and untimely showers and storms, have led to a sub-par production year and an early end to berry season for Pleasant View U Pick Berries, near Crossfield.

“With us not having all the moisture, basically our season ended at the beginning of September,” said Diane Rush, who helps operate her family-owned berry farm alongside her father Don. “Not having the moisture was a disappointment, because we don’t use anything other than what Mother Nature provides. So it could have been a little bit better if we had the moisture at the right times. It was challenging.”

Pleasant View U Pick Berries was not alone in having a difficult year with many berry-growers, in particular, feeling the effects of severe weather.

“We started out with a cold, dry spring, and that definitely created some challenges with getting small-seeded crops established,” agreed Blaine Staples, who is a special advisor to the board of the Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association, which represents several u-pick growers and other farm-direct growers across the province.

“Strawberries were slow to get going, and it was really cool until about the first of July or mid-June … So that wasn’t the best start to the (berry) season.”

Staples, who also owns The Jungle Farm near Innisfail (which has a u-pick component to it), said it was a little more challenging than usual weather-wise for berry growers like Rush and himself.

“The picture I got was the pattern (for growers) has been really similar across the province,” he stated.

For example, in his case, Staples was ditching out his 20 acres of strawberry rows to contend with the flooding effects of having 16 inches of rain come down in less than two weeks at the beginning of June. A month later, his entire crop was devastated by one of the worst hailstorms he has ever encountered. 

It was actually a relief, he said, when the late summer heatwave this August kicked in. Under irrigation, that heat meant Staples was still able to get his late season strawberry crop off in good order and salvage something from a low production year. It’s the same for many growers he has spoken with this year, he confirmed.

“We’re not going to make our normal production, but at least things have come back gangbusters (this month),” Staples said.

For Pleasant View U Pick Berries owner Rush, who doesn’t have irrigation on her farm, the heavy rains in early June might have been her one saving grace this growing season.

Though weather conditions hindered the farm’s haskap, raspberry and rhubarb crops, it would have been even worse, according to Rush, if the farm had not received so much early moisture.

“We had all the moisture back in the beginning of June, which helped with the haskaps,” she said. “We had the haskaps and then the raspberries came at the end of July.”

Though the crops her farm yielded were decent in quality, prolonged hot weather took a toll on the quantity of berries Pleasant View U Pick Berries was able to produce this year. According to Rush, this meant they had more demand than supply this growing season.

“We had pretty good numbers (of pickers) coming out altogether, despite the weather,” she confirmed. “We had people come out from as far south as Okotoks and as far north as Red Deer. Most of them were coming from Calgary, and most would come out on the weekends. (Traffic) was about the same as last year.”

Rush said her family was grateful for all the customer support they received from local communities throughout the region.

On a side note, the poor weather conditions this summer also led to a sub-par wildberry production season. According to CBC News, fewer wildberries such as buffaloberries grew because of the cool spring followed by a very hot summer.

The poor growing conditions have led to more bears coming down out of the mountains looking for food and increased risk of negative human-bear interactions. Bears depend heavily on wildberry crops in order to fatten up prior to entering their winter dens. Several bear advisories have been issued in west Rocky View County and other nearby communities where bear activity is higher, this year. 

Bear sightings were recently reported in Cochrane and Bragg Creek, and in the latter, two mother bears were killed – one was euthanized after becoming habituated to human food, while the other was the victim of a motor vehicle collision. The mothers left behind three and two cubs, respectively.

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