American fruit sellers are looking north to Canada as severe drought and water shortages continue to wreak havoc on crops in California, the largest agricultural state.
American berry giant Driscoll’s has teamed up with Sébastien Dugré, co-owner of Massé Nursery in Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, Que., to test whether commercial production of blackberries and raspberries is viable in the province.
Quebec’s colder climate can limit berry crops, so growing them on a larger scale for that part of Canada is unusual. Dugré started the trials last year and was able to harvest almost 80 tons of fruit this year.
“There is definitely a learning curve. Last year was tough, this year is much better, we have better fruit,” he said.
Dugré uses domed tunnels to protect the plants from rain while creating a microclimate that is warmer for the plants. It all helps him to start earlier in the spring and finish later in the fall, extending the growing season.
“There are big companies that want to do business in Canada… for me that’s a good opportunity,” Dugré said.
While there may be unexpected benefits for some growing regions, the shift in agriculture amplifies the huge challenges ahead as the world adapts to climate change and extreme weather that is increasing in frequency and intensity.
Driscoll’s is also working with a few other growers in Ontario, while another US fruit seller, Naturipe Farms, is experimenting with blueberries and raspberries in Ontario and Quebec.
While there’s a lot of trial and error, partnering with bigger players for Canadian growers may be worth it, says Mary Doidge, assistant professor of agricultural economics at McGill University in Montreal. “Companies like Driscoll’s that have a little bit more capital may be able to take those risks,” she said.
Changing climate conditions are not the only incentive for the trials; high shipping costs make it relatively cheaper to grow and ship within Canada.
“Canada become more attractive has to do with the conditions here and how they are changing, but also with the conditions in the places where these companies already produce,” said Doidge.
Labor shortages are a growing problem in California. And as prolonged droughts and water scarcity become more common, there are rising costs to protect crops and pump water to farms, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Driscoll’s president Soren Bjorn says his company could have a viable season in Canada with the help of technology and the latest genetics.
“We’re definitely going to grow and with more growers and more hectares… we think this will be a good risk mitigation factor over time.”
Redraw the map
Farmers around the world are redrawing the agricultural map as the world warms.
In Italy, the Morettino family runs a coffee roaster and has successfully grown coffee for the first time in the past year. They planted 60 Arabica coffee plants, which were able to adapt to the Sicilian climate – much further north than where coffee is traditionally grown around the equator.
“We are witnessing strong climate changes that should make us think about the present and future of our country,” Andrea Morettino wrote in a blog post about the experience.
Other regions are expected to become less suitable for cultivation. For example, a study published earlier this year in the journal Plos One estimated that by 2050 Peru could lose more than half of its suitable areas for growing avocados due to climate change.
“Because we get this volatility in the weather, not just that the temperature is higher every day, but it’s really the volatility, we see our production being disrupted quite a bit,” Bjorn said.
“If you have disruptions in one place, you need to have another place that hopefully can mitigate some of the impact on the market.”
But while there are opportunities for Canada as climate conditions change, this country is not immune to extreme weather events. Drought has decimated prairie cereal crops in recent years, while extreme flooding in BC hit many berry plantations last November. Still, growers like Dugré know they have to adapt to survive.
“It’s a never-ending process, adapting every year and 30 years from now we will still be adapting.”