Strawberry industry in Kings on road to recovery from aphid virus

Kirk Starratt
Published on July 6, 2014

Hank Bosveld of Bosveld’s Fruit Farm, with a flat of fresh strawberries. He said the worst of the aphid virus scare seems to be behind growers now. His berries have a clean bill of health.

©Kirk Starratt

His strawberries have a clean bill of health. It looks like the strawberry industry is well on its way to recovering from a virus complex spread by aphids that led to many fields being plowed under.

Hank Bosveld of Bosveld’s Fruit Farm in Lakeville said weekly monitoring and leaf sampling is being conducted on fields and his strawberries had a clean report on July 4.

“I’d say the worst of the virus is behind us,” said Bosveld, president of the Kings County Federation of Agriculture.

He said their fruit farm took out more plants than they normally would last fall because of the aphid virus scare.

Charlie Keddy of Lakeville, who operates a nursery and provides strawberry plants to Bosveld and other growers across the country, said the strawberry industry is recovering after the second year of being affected by the virus. He said the issue came to a head in 2012 and 2013. The industry had been suffering from a low level of the virus for “some period of time.”

He said that because of the controls put in place, he’s hearing from producers that they’re experiencing some of the best crops in the last decade.

“Once growers started spraying their newly planted strawberries, it was brought under control,” Keddy said of the aphid virus.

He said if growers continue on with the control measures put in place last year, the industry is well on its way to recovery.

An extensive field survey last year confirmed the presence of a virus complex and an aphid known to spread it in a high percentage of fields throughout the province.

The federal and provincial governments provided up to $2.3 million to strawberry producers to remove diseased plants infected with a virus complex and replace them with healthy ones.

Pickers needed

Bosveld said the strawberries were slow coming on but through the years they’ve had “some faithful people who come back regardless” to pick. He said on July 5 that they’d “probably need 80 pickers instead of 25” as the berries keep ripening and growing.

Bosveld said there doesn’t seem to any consideration “in any shape or form” for growers on the part of major retailers, one of which was selling Nova Scotia strawberries for $2.99 per quart.

Keddy said if the major retailers could bring berries in from outside the province at a cheaper price, they would. Bosveld said major retailers are happy to buy from local producers if local growers can meet that low price.

Bosveld said he remembers John F. Kennedy saying the farmer is “the only businessman who buys everything retail, sells for wholesale and pays the freight both ways.”