KENTVILLE, N.S. —
Farmers across the province were still evaluating their losses Monday in the wake of hurricane Dorian, but losses are extensive.
Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association president Larry Lutz, who grows apples and peaches south of Berwick, said the damage to the overall crop might be as high as 25 per cent or more. But, he said, the losses of Honeycrisp are probably closer to 25 per cent, and, SweeTango and Ambrosia are between 50 and 60 per cent.
Those are the three high-value varieties grown in the province.
Macintosh and Cortland apples didn’t seem as hard hit, he said.
In one of Lutz’s orchards, SweeTango apples littered the ground under the trees Monday, the same day picking was due to start.
He said the apples are worth $400-$500 a bin when picked, but for food safety reasons can’t be picked off the ground for consumption.
“They’re worth nothing,” he said, although he said he would be checking into their suitability as a juice apple. That could get him $40 a bin, “but it could cost me that much to pick them up.”
He said he had talked to several growers in Kings and Annapolis counties.
“It’s all pretty much the same (situation), but probably worse at either end of the (Annapolis) Valley,” he said.
He said he doesn’t expect a shortage or price change because fruit from other areas will likely be imported, but “the impact will be on the farmers.”
He said his losses are probably in the range of $200,000.
Losses to the industry could still be higher because apples remaining on the trees may be bruised, reducing their value.
But with the storm impacting the Annapolis Valley as a tropical storm and not a hurricane, “it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be… this could have been a whole lot worse.”
He said many orchards now use a trellis system with smaller trees, so damage to the trees themselves wasn’t as serious as it might have been with free-standing, larger trees.
“There are reports of some trellises with the whole support system falling down,” he said.
He said many farmers have insurance, and they basically have to roll with the punches.
“We still have trees, we still have our farms, we still have our families and workers,” he said. “We’re still healthy, there will be another crop next year. This is short-term damage.”
Greg Gerrits of Elmridge Farm near Canning said he lost most of his sweet corn crop, which was flattened by the high winds of the storm. He said corn ready for picking will be salvaged, but other ears that hadn’t matured cannot be harvested.
“We’ll pick corn this week at ankle height, but after that it won’t be good,” he said. “The plants are stressed, so (the ears) will lose their sugar and just taste like cardboard. It will be very hard picking.”
He has seen other cornfields that were also flattened.
Some that are still standing are the varieties used as feed corn for livestock, which have sturdier root systems.
Gerrits said there are other crops on his mixed farm he is concerned about as well.
“The beans look awfully beat up … and the broccoli in wind spins around and stresses the stem and damages it,” he said. “They’re a long time recovering, and anything that is a long time recovering right now (in the season) is not going to make it.”
He said he also has to fertilize some of his other crops like carrots and beets because the organics in the soil have been lost because of the 25 centimetres of rain that has fallen in the past 10 days.
Gerrits said getting crop insurance hasn’t been easy because he sells to small vendors, not chain stores. He’s hoping that there might be some government assistance available.
“I don’t like taking government dollars, but if they’re handing them out I guess I can’t not take them because then I can’t be competitive with other farms.
“I feel half-sick today from the stress of the weekend. It hits you a couple days later, and I knew it would. You try to remain calm, but it eats you up.”
His early estimates are a loss of at least $100,000.
At Blueberry Acres in nearby Sheffield Mills, Bob Kidston estimates that at least 68,000 kilograms of berries were lost by either being blown off the bushes, or blown around and bruised while remaining attached.
That represents 15 per cent of the crop, and about a third of what was still on the bushes before the storm.
He said the loss could go higher depending on the shape of the berries still on bushes that haven’t yet ripened.
“The stress on the plants, they might just drop the fruit,” he said.
He said the fruit buds for next year formed in August, so it’s not known yet what potential impact there might be on next year’s crop.
Either way, the losses this year are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.
Kidston said he has to wait a week to pick the unripened berries, so there is no work for the farm workers, many of whom are offshore workers. That is a similar issue facing other farmers.