A cartoon in an agriculture newspaper summed up spring in Quebec this year.
It showed a grower in a yellow raincoat “catching” floating strawberries from a boat with a fishing net. The caption: “First strawberry harvest.”
“Growers who saw it weren’t laughing,” said Caroline Thibault, executive director of the Quebec Strawberry and Raspberry Growers, Longueuil.
The province’s wholesalers weren’t laughing, either.
“The percentage of issues we have on vegetables arriving on our dock right now is much greater than any normal season,” said Guy Milette, vice president of international and business development for Montreal-based Courchesne Larose Ltd.
And not just from Quebec, he said, as bad weather hampered production up and down North America’s East Coast and West Coast and Alaska posted warmer temperatures than Montreal.
“It’s a challenge because 20 years ago there was a price for everything — you could discount your product $2 or $3 and you always found a customer for it,” said Milette.
“Today, the product is worth $25 and if not it’s dead — there’s no middle ground.”
The late spring meant crops arrived on the market at the same time, said Andre Plante, general manager of the Quebec Produce Growers Association, St. Leonard, which made it hard to keep prices up.
On June 14, he said leaf lettuce and romaine were selling for $7 a case.
“To have a little profit we can’t go under $10 for romaine,” he said.
For Mario Cloutier, sales manager for Lavel, Quebec-based Les Productions Margiric, which grows lettuce, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and melons, the season started cold, wet and miserable.
“It’s the complete opposite of last year,” Cloutier said June 20. “The fall-like temperatures of the last seven days have delayed everything, and customers do not understand.”
Though the temperatures zoomed above normal June 23, another week of rain was forecast for much of the province.
Between the showers most growers, including Margiric, managed to plant their fields.
“The spring went very well, with everything in on schedule,” said Pierre Dolbec, vice president sales and procurement for VegPro International, Sherrington, Quebec, “but we hope Mother Nature eases up because the rain could cause mildew problems for our baby lettuces, and it’s challenging for the guys in the field.”
Growers of hardier root vegetables such as Guillaume Henri, vice president marketing for St-Lin des Laurentides, Quebec-based GNC Farms Inc., had parsnips seeded and celery root planted by June 20 and were “transplanting and seeding big time” to get rutabaga, beets and carrots in the ground.
Henri expected to have everything in by Canada Day, July 1.
While last fall’s carrots were gone by February, Sherrington-based Groupe Vegco Inc., the marketing arm for 14 Quebec carrot and onion growers, was still offering good quality yellow storage onions to local chain stores, said saleswoman Charlene Newton.
“We planted on time, and we’re trying to be optimistic, but the weather is not cooperating, and these plants need sunshine,” said Newton.
Gord Medynski, director sales and purchasing for St. Ubalde, Quebec-based Patates Dolbec, said the grower’s 3,000 acres of sandy, well-drained soil can handle the rain pretty well.
Medynski said he expected to harvest the new crop of round whites around July 10, a week later than last year, and said demand and prices are strong after a mediocre season.
Demand is strong for all Quebec-grown products as the summer begins, Milette said.
“Even though we’re an importer, our priority is to give people what they want, and Quebec consumers want local products,” he said.
A decade ago, Courchesne Larose was selling 220,000 boxes of local grown product during the summer. Last year, he said, they sold 1.2 million boxes.
Now, everyone agrees, it needs to get warmer and drier for the Quebec season to truly begin.