Tough growing season roughs up the local deal

11/29/2011 03:56:00 PM
Cynthia David

MONTREAL — Quebec’s 2011 growing season was hard, tough, brutal ... or worse.

"It was a nightmare," said Mario Cloutier, marketing director of Les Productions Margiric in Laval.

"We had a wet spring until mid-July," Cloutier said. "Then we got hit by everything — rain, hail, hurricanes and sizzling heat."

The success of Margiric’s new heat-resistant seed varieties for broccoli and colored peppers was one of the season’s few bright spots, he said, as September temperatures soared to an unheard-of 93 degrees.

The season was so extreme that there was little volume left to sell by the end of September, said Andre Plante, executive director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.

"Just before the hurricane hit in late August, we had lots of volume, which put pressure on the price," he said. "After the rain, the price went up but we had no supply and had to tell the chains to buy products from the U.S."

Pat Calabretta, senior director of merchandising and purchasing for Sobeys Quebec, said the local deal was such a challenge — there weren’t even enough pumpkins for Halloween — it was almost a relief to give up and switch to U.S. product a few weeks earlier than usual.

"We try to hang in with local growers as long as possible," Calabretta said, "but when the quality’s not there, it’s not fair to customers, who complain and ask why you’re carrying it."

Armando Silva, organic buyer for Montreal organic pioneer Gaetan Bono Fruits and Vegetables, said he didn’t have huge volumes of local organic produce during the summer, but "it wasn’t that bad."

Cloutier and Pierre Dolbec, manager of development and marketing for broccoli producer Les Jardins Paul Cousineau, St. Constant, credit retailers for their support during the roller-coaster season.

"We brought the whole broccoli crop in basically at the same time," Dolbec said, "but they could only take so much."

Cloutier said the mild finale allowed Margiric to harvest "a pretty good amount" of peppers, cantaloupe and broccoli to save the brief but eventful season.



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