Blueberry farmer looking at massive losses post-Dorian

A blueberry farmer in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley is dealing with significant crop loss after Hurricane Dorian blew through the province earlier this month.

Earl Kidston, founder and president of the Nova Agri Group, said his company likely lost $500,000 worth of high-bush blueberries during Dorian, which was a post-tropical storm when it made landfall on Sept. 7 in Halifax and had hurricane-strength winds.

Kidston said he won't know the full extent of the damage to other crops until later in the year.

"It's not just the ripe fruit that gets dismantled off the bush. It's some of our next pick," he said. "There's hardly anything there to pick now."

Nova Agri — or Dykeview Farms — sells products under the brand Country Magic. Kidston is part of one of the five families that make up the group.

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Despite the slim pickings, the blueberry U-pick at Dykeview Farms remains open.

Since getting into the blueberry business in the 1990s, Kidston said nothing hit his blueberry crop as hard as Dorian. He said the last time a hurricane hit, it was earlier in the season and did more damage to the bush than the actual fruit.

"This is worse, and it's worse for people too, and all the people we work with, and businesses we work with," he said. "Because it means that what was going to market is not going now."

As well as losing much of his crop, Kidston said an unfortunate side-effect is the impact it's having on people who pick and package blueberries. Of the 500 people employed at Nova Agri during harvest time, about 200 are temporary foreign workers.

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Jose Luis Perez, a temporary foreign worker from Mexico, spent the past month picking blueberries in the Annapolis Valley.

"Many people want [to go] back to Mexico because [there's] no work," he said.

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Perez said workers have been barely working since the hurricane and aren't able to send money back to support their families.

Kidston said some temporary foreign workers were heading home this past weekend. He said they'd like to figure out a way to have work for those who want to stay, but it's not as easy as finding an opening on another crop.

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Kidston said transferring temporary foreign workers to a different placement — like harvesting apples or Christmas trees — needs to be organized several months in advance.

"The program is not very conducive to help us in times like these," Kidston said. "When there's other jobs that they could do, but they're not allowed to ... this program needs to be revamped."