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Strawberry Industry in Canada

The miracle of the 20-week strawberry season

The UK strawberry industry is expected to smash its sales record this year by £50m, a record it only set last year. What's behind the blooming strawberry?

In 1990 the British strawberry season lasted about six weeks. Now it typically stretches from May to October - about 20 weeks.

And that's just the official season, which marks the point when supermarkets are stocked 100% with British strawberries - replacing foreign imports from the likes of Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Spain. These countries have an inherent advantage over the UK - a warmer, sunnier climate.

But British strawberry growers have been innovatively trying to squeeze every last strawberry from the UK's unpredictable climate. And last year there were still British strawberries on the shelves in December for the first time.

Growers predict 2015 will be even better. Strawberries are expected to fetch £325m this year, easily beating 2014's record total of £275m, according to British Summer Fruits (BSF), which represents 98% of berry growers that supply supermarkets.

They estimate that 76,000 tonnes will be produced this year - a 12,000-tonne increase on last year alone - while production has increased by 36% in the past five years, according to the BSF.

The principal reason for this is both clear and controversial - polytunnels. These flexible greenhouses - with their curved metal girders and polythene covers - have spread out over large swathes of the British countryside.

In 1990 there were none. Now they account for some 95% of all berries grown outdoors, says Laurence Olins, chairman of BSF.

The tunnels are far from universally adored. Locals have fought numerous battles against their introduction, mainly criticising them for blotting the landscape.

But while they'll rarely win beauty contests, they've had a massive impact on strawberries.
"Polytunnels are like putting an umbrella over a crop - [it] protects the crop from pests, diseases, rain and climate [damage]," Olins explains.

It's also warmer than outside by several degrees, he adds, accelerating plant growth. "You can put bees in there for pollination, you can put predator insects in there to eat pests - it's a controlled climate without artificial heat or light."

Strawberry farmer Paul Kelsey first installed the tunnels on his 19.5-hectare farm in Kent about six years ago. All 600 tonnes he produces on his medium-sized farm every season are grown under them.

"They have been the single biggest driver of the strawberry industry's growth," he says.
There have been other innovations too.

"When I first started growing 30 years ago we were planting straight into the soil with nothing around it," says Kelsey.

Now he grows them at waist level, known as "table top" production, says Kelsey. It accounts for about 30-40% of the industry, Olins says, and mainly suits those who, like Kelsey, don't have enough space to rotate their crops on different fields.

The modern strawberry only emerged when it was bred with a South American species brought back by a French spy after a visit to Chile in 1712

Strawberries are planted in suspended grow bags, often using something called coconut coir. It's a natural fibre taken from the husk of a coconut, which is then compressed into compost that has good water retention.

The table tops make it easier for strawberry pickers, allowing them to stand rather than bend and kneel, which also makes them more productive, Kelsey says.

In Canada
Having read the above article I wanted to try and find our how Canada was doing with this fruit and so this is what I found...

Canada is home to some of the best berry-growing conditions on earth, not to mention our farmers are tops for environmental responsibility. But how are local Canadian strawberry growers doing these days anyway?

Not too good. Coupled with a short growing season - lasting roughly one month - the farmer has only a small window of a couple of days to harvest the ripe fruit and get it to market before the delicate strawberry flesh turns to mush.

On the other hand, Californiaís climate allows for year Ďround growing, and itís not just the berries that are growing.

Every year, the California strawberry industry expands too. It now produces about 1 billion kilograms of berries per year. According to Kevin Schooley of the Ontario Berry Growers Association, the average strawberry patch in Southern Ontario is four hectares, while in California they can span up to 20.

And they out-yield us too: 34,000 kilos to 2,000 kilos per hectare. Itís a David and Goliath story to be sure. But like David and his slingshot, consumers can pack a powerful wallop. Local produce is the best. Seek it out, demand it, and savour it.

Strawberries are grown in all provinces of Canada with the largest areas of production in Quebec (36%), Ontario (32%), British Columbia (15%) and Nova Scotia (8%). Most strawberries in Canada are June-bearing varieties picked in June and July, but there is some production of day-neutral varieties, which have a longer harvest season.

The Crop Profile for Strawberry provides an overview of strawberry production and pest management in Canada. Information is provided on abiotic factors affecting its growth. The biology of key disease, insect and mite and weed problems is presented as well as cultural, chemical and alternative methods of control. Detailed information is provided in tabular form on pest occurrence, integrated pest management options and registered pesticides available to growers.

Grower issues/gaps in pest management, identified through stakeholder consultations are described in each of the three main sections (disease, insect and mite and weed) and under each pest description. Research contacts and sources of additional information are listed at the end of the profile.

A Crop Profile for Strawberry in Canada for April 2005 is available as a pdf document at:

Annual Production is 24,521 metric tonnes with a value of $53 million.

Now if you compare this to the UK report above you'll see that there is tremendous opportunity within Canada if we adopt the poly tunnel approach.

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