Many Quebec growers are using phrases like “almost perfect” and “very optimistic” to describe this season.
Yet they realize Mother Nature could slap them down at any moment with torrential rains, like last fall’s Hurricane Irene, or the recent June hailstorm that finished the season for some apple growers who’d survived the spring’s frost.
“Generally, we’re about six to seven days ahead of last year, and we hope the exceptional weather continues,” said Andre Plante, executive director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.
While some growers decided not to plant when the ground warmed up unseasonably early, Laval, Quebec-based Les Productions Margaric went ahead.
“It’s been totally nuts,” said marketing director Mario Cloutier, who planted 10-15 days earlier than normal.
After Margiric’s romaine harvest wrapped up June 9, Cloutier said he planned to offer celery, cauliflower and broccoli to Canadian chain stores the week of June 18.
“In a normal year, I’d have broccoli June 25, celery June 28 and cauliflower July 1,” he said in mid-June.
“You see how far ahead we are? It’s crazy!”
After a winter of low broccoli prices out of California, prices are starting to pick up, said Pierre Dolbec, director of development and marketing for St. Constant-based Les Jardins Paul Cousineau Inc., which resisted planting its broccoli early.
“The timing should be good for us on the local market if we can get the markets up a bit,” Dolbec said.
Quebec growers will also benefit as freight rates from California rise, he said.
“Close to home buying is very strong with East Coast retailers, and New England and down to New York is an overnight trip for us,” he said.
Cousineau exports about 40% of its production to the U.S., he said. The rest is sold in Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes.
With the Canadian dollar hovering just below par and the U.S. economy still hurting, Plante said exports may stay below 30% again this year.
“We had too much volume last year and couldn’t export, which meant growers had to sell at prices 20% to 25% below 2010 levels,” he said.
To kick off the local season, the QPGA recently invited more than 300 actors, musicians, chefs, growers and media to a party in Old Montreal to eat, tweet and spread the buy local message.
Plante said the association’s promotional campaign encourages consumers to try new varieties of fruits and vegetables and new varieties of old favorites.
Saleswoman Charlene Newton of Sherrington-based Groupe Vegco, one of several Quebec grower-shippers producing colored vegetables, said its popular colored carrots are now grown Quebec and in Florida to extend the season for chain-store customers.
Newton said Vegco’s 14 carrot and onion growers are among those hoping the great weather continues at least until July, when their crops are harvested.
Apart from the usual challenges of weather, prices, exports and how to increase consumption of local produce, Quebec growers who depend on seasonal labor are concerned about a change being considered to the federal employment insurance law.
Under the proposed change, workers receiving unemployment insurance may be forced to take jobs in their local area normally filled by temporary foreign workers.