GREAT VILLAGE – Viruses discovered in strawberry crops here have the potential to cost the region millions of dollars in damages, says a local farmer.
“It’s upsetting… it’s a big loss,” said Curtis Millen, who estimated he will lose up to 70 per cent of his regular yield.
“It’s going to cost the region a lot of money. It’s going to be in the millions.”
This week, his crew began plowing up this year’s early crop.
“It has been the perfect storm,” said Millen, one of several local growers who are also cutting out their withered strawberry plants.
The viruses attacking producers is a combination of the mottled and yellow edge virus.
Millen explained that the aphid, a tiny insect that feeds on plants, carries the viruses from plant-to-plant. The viruses cause the plant to wither and reduce the amount of fruit it can produce, if any.
“They formed a complex, which is when two viruses get together,” said the farmer of 38 years. “One virus, the plant can handle it, but two viruses it can’t. The plant becomes unable to produce (much) fruit.
“Once the virus goes in the plant, it shrivels down, shrinks down. It’s similar to having a cold, you might say.”
It is bad news for the growing region but this setback will only affect strawberries for June and part of July.
Millen, who employs more than 200 workers, is one of the biggest growers in the province and supplies, along with his fellow growers, retail stores in Atlantic Canada.
Fortunately, some growers are also using a ‘day-neutral’ system where new healthy plants will go in the ground this spring and will bear fruit in July to October.
“We have a first-rate reputation and this is out of the blue. It is a huge financial hit for the Great Village region. U-picks and roadstands in the area will be closed,” said Millen.
He said full recovery is expected by next season.
“Farmers are always dealing with Mother Nature. This is a little bit rougher than we are used to,” Millen said.
The farmers thanked the Department of Agriculture for providing resources and help deal with the situation.