MONTREAL — After last year’s unusually early spring weather, Quebec growers were beginning to fear spring would never come this year as the cold and rain dragged on until the end of May.
With many growers unable to seed soggy fields at the end of April, Andre Plante, executive director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association, predicted a roller coaster ride for supplies and prices during the next few months.
“Since all the crops will be ready at the same time, particularly lettuce, we’re going to have huge volumes for a week, then nothing for two weeks, then another wave of product, which doesn’t help prices,” Plante said.
Normally, growers able to start early set a higher price, which drops a dollar or two when the big volumes come in, he said. Without an early premium price, however, he predicts prices may start low this summer and remain low.
“We don’t know how it’s all going to end up,” he said.
One grower who’s not worried is Mario Cloutier, marketing director of Laval, Quebec-based Les Productions Margiric Inc., which grows 2,200 acres of vegetables and melons.
Though his first lettuce crop was delayed by a few days, he still anticipated picking celery in mid-June and harvesting broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers by late June.
“At the end of the month we should have good volumes,” Cloutier said.
Though greenhouse growers were safe from the rain, those without artificial lighting faced a slow rate of growth, which was expected to affect supplies in July, said Robert Boudreau, business development director for Savoura in Portneuf, Quebec. Savoura does have artificial lights.
“We’re hearing that a lot of field tomatoes still weren’t planted by May 27, so we’re expecting a huge demand for greenhouse tomatoes this summer,” Boudreau said.
The season’s rough start is especially unfortunate since Quebec growers got some major attention this spring from big-name retailers moving into the produce department.
By the end of the year, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart plans to open seven supercenters in Quebec, all featuring local produce, Plante said. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. is expected to make an appearance in another year or two, and in April Canadian discount chain Giant Tiger toured the Quebec booths at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s trade show in Montreal to meet the growers it needs for its new produce section.
“It’s good for us to have new players because we grow too many vegetables to meet the existing demand,” Plante said.
“The big chains keep telling us we have too many vendors and that they don’t need four or five for lettuce and another four or five for radishes.”
On May 3, Quebec Minister of Agriculture Pierre Corbeil launched a promotional campaign that saw the three major chains, Metro, IGA and Loblaw, rally around the slogan “Always the right choice.”
Even with buy local programs blanketing the province, Quebec growers must still figure out how to increase their visibility and sales south of the border, Plante said.
The Canadian dollar, hovering around $1.02 for weeks, will definitely make it tough to export, he said. Sky-high freight rates are also a factor, though he said Quebec faces increasing competition from the U.S.
“Our competition is no longer only from California, it’s from states like Georgia and Michigan, which is becoming a major grower of celery and peppers,” he said.
To help drum up more U.S. business, the Quebec Produce Growers Association organized a buyer’s visit during the CPMA convention, and Plante will lead delegations to the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in October and to the New York Produce Show in November.