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Drought and high costs bring US berry giants to maple syrup country in Canada


MONTREAL/OTTAWA, Aug 29 (Reuters) – A part of Canada best known for maple syrup is being tested to mass-produce berries normally grown in warmer regions, making it the unexpected beneficiary of extreme weather conditions, local demand and rising costs in traditional growing areas. like California.

Driscoll’s and grower-owned Naturipe Farms LLC, two of North America’s largest fruit sellers, are both testing commercial berry production in Ontario and Quebec, executives said.

Efforts are aimed at seeing if Canada’s most populous provinces can be profitable regions for larger-scale production of blackberries, raspberries and strawberries despite a colder climate that normally limits berries to a short summer season.

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The long-term initiative is driven by high demand for local berries – it’s cheaper to grow and ship to Canada than to sell imported berries – and by water shortages and drought conditions in California and beyond.

“We’ve probably been to most of the obvious places in the world. Now we’re moving into more difficult territory,” said Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s of the Americas, which sources most of its berries from Mexico and the United States. United.

High fuel costs are also a reason “to grow products closer to where the end game is,” or closer to consumers, said Brian Bocock, vice president of sales and product management at Naturipe Farms, which is testing the production of blueberries and raspberries in Quebec and Ontario. .

No one in traditional growing regions like California is freaking out over efforts to grow berries on a larger scale in Canada. Canadian trials, for one, are still in their early stages, so it’s unclear whether Canada could become a bigger player in the berry market in the years to come.

Even with a longer growing season and new varieties, it would be difficult for Canada to compete with major berry-growing regions like California in terms of volume.

“Strawberry season here, and raspberries the same way – they’re set to be harvested day after day after day, week after week after week,” said Daniel Sumner, director of the University’s Center for Agricultural Issues. of California, adding the biggest threat to the state is Mexico with its cheaper labor force.

Instead, the berry trials highlight the long-term challenges growers face as climate change reshapes global agriculture, affecting everything from grain to wine. Olive oil production in Italy, for example, was once the preserve of hot, arid areas, but is now produced in northern regions like Valle d’Aosta more famous for its ski resorts. Read more

“Climate change is disrupting agriculture and impacting its turnover and bottom line,” said Himanshu Gupta, CEO of Climate AI, which works with Driscoll’s and models the impact and risk posed by weather conditions. extremes on trade measures.

“Adaptation will drive the winners. Those who can adapt faster are the ones who will eventually win the market.”


Growing strawberries, raspberries and blackberries in central Canada is not new, although the scale and growing season targeted by Driscoll’s and Naturipe are. Instead, the country is most famous for blueberries, of which it is the world’s second largest producer behind the United States, thanks mainly to production in British Columbia’s temperate Fraser Valley.

Climate change is also expected to affect the way blueberries are grown – growers in the Fraser Valley are now eyeing land further north, some as far as the city of Prince George which sits on the same parallel as cities like Dublin and Hamburg, Germany.

Pria Uppal, sales manager at Fraser Valley Packers Inc, a large blueberry processor and packer, said some experienced growers are “preparing ahead” and looking to buy land in northern British Columbia.


The private company Driscoll’s, which has annual revenues of more than 5 billion dollars, is also preparing for the future by diversifying its sources of berry supply.

“We’re going through all of our critical regions to try to understand what’s likely to happen in 25 or 50 years and what the implications are,” Bjorn said.

At Masse Nursery, southeast of Montreal, temporary workers from South America are picking raspberries and blackberries that will be sold under the Driscoll’s brand – one of the few sites in Quebec and Ontario being tested for greater production .

The nursery began growing berries for Driscoll’s last year on a trial basis and expects to produce 80-100 tons of fruit from late June to September.

Tall plastic tunnels protect the berries from precipitation and generate heat to extend the growing season by a few weeks, said Sébastien Dugre, co-owner with his wife Justine Masse.

“Quebec is not a traditional place to grow blackberries and raspberries compared to other parts of the world,” Dugre said.

“But I think with the infrastructure available now, we can find a more stable way to commercially produce good-tasting raspberries for a longer season.”

As costs in traditional growth centers rise due to weather volatility, the disparity with places like Quebec and Ontario is shrinking and making local production more viable, Bjorn said.

In California, for example, the Public Policy Institute of California estimates $1.1 billion in lost revenue and increased pumping costs due to drought.

And as California growers spend more to protect their crops, places like Canada are becoming more attractive.

“All of a sudden, Quebec isn’t at such a cost disadvantage anymore,” Bjorn said.

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Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Julie Gordon in Ottawa, editing by Deepa Babington

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