Fear of Trump crackdown on farm labour drives up interest in Quebec strawberries

Fear of Trump crackdown on farm labour drives up interest in Quebec strawberries

California is the unrivalled giant of the U.S. strawberry industry, however, six years of drought — and now the risk of a shortage of farm labourers — is leading American berry suppliers to look elsewhere.

That makes Quebec's strawberry crop look more tantalizing than ever before, Jennifer Crawford, the head of the Quebec Strawberry and Raspberry Producers Association said Friday.

"Growers are being approached by different companies, different people." she told CBC's Daybreak.

American strawberry distributors have been sounding out possible partnerships with Quebec producers for years — initially because of the long drought in  California, which supplies 88 per cent of strawberries in the U.S., she said.

Now, California is awash with rain, but uncertainty about whether U.S. President Donald Trump will make good on his vow to deport undocumented migrants is prompting a new concern.

"The discussions have intensified," said Crawford.

Berry pickers wanted

Crawford said some distributors may be trying to diversify their sources in case an immigration crackdown leads to a shortage of strawberry pickers.

The California Strawberry Commission said it is too soon to say whether Trump's plan will cause headaches. The season hasn't started yet.

However, it said strawberries are a labour-intensive crop, and a shortage of workers is always a concern.

Revolutions in strawberries

American distributors are also paying more attention to berry farming across northeastern North America, Crawford said.

Growing techniques in the region are evolving quickly, and Quebec's 500 strawberry producers are at the forefront.

Some new varieties produce second crops as late as mid-October. Some farms are growing strawberries in greenhouses through the winter.

"The industry is just a really healthy industry right now," Crawford said.

The next challenge is to develop strawberries that travel well, she said, in order to tap into the full potential of the market south of the border.

"Strawberries do not keep."