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Edmonton-area farmers expect surge in local produce interest due to B.C. fruit crop failures

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While a cold snap earlier this year has killed the majority of stone fruit crops in British Columbia, local farmers say a cooler, wetter spring has resulted in a good start to the growing season in and around Edmonton.

Raspberries at Horse Hill Berry Farm have just started to bud, and the farm’s horticulturalist expects fruiting to start at the end of June.

“I think this year, especially with the rain that we got this spring, is going to be another good year,” said horticulturalist Samuel Wilson.

He estimates the farm will produce 10,000-15,000 lb. of raspberries this year. Wilson said the consistent rain and cooler temperatures this spring have been very beneficial.

“Raspberries really like an inch to two inches every week, and it’s not going to be perfectly on schedule, but throughout the last month, we’ve basically gotten that.”

In January, temperatures dropped significantly for several days in B.C.. As a result, the summer crops of stone fruits were wiped out. The B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association estimates that harvests for peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums are down at least 90 per cent.

“You see a lot of dead vines. You see a lot of dead peach trees,” said B.C. farmer Daniel Souto.

“It’s weird driving through the Okanagan and not seeing fruit on the trees at this time of year.”

Souto said his farm mainly sells peaches, so not being able to produce any is a big hit to his business. He said B.C. fruit will "definitely" be more expensive due to the shortage.

Local farmer Tam Andersen said it is difficult to grow stone fruit, like peaches, in Alberta due to the weather.

She said consumers may have to substitute their favourite stone fruit with produce that is grown locally here in Edmonton.

“Growers are seeing a resurgence and interest in coming to local farmers and sourcing from local farms," Andersen said.

She said people are aware that there may be a fruit shortage, so many of them are looking to grow their own produce.

“You are starting to see that whole resurgence of being self-sufficient in one’s own backyard as an early response to possible food shortages coming later in the season,” said Andersen, who sells fruit trees.

“People are buying raspberry bushes and strawberries because those give instant rewards.”

Andersen said it is still early in the growing season, and severe weather, like thunderstorms, can still damage crops, but she remains cautiously optimistic.

“As farmers, we are always risk-takers, and the weather has always got the trump card in its hand,” said Andersen.

“But it’s looking like it will be a good season for most crops.”