OTTAWA - Feb 10/21 - SNS -- Unusual weather patterns and labor shortages resulting from COVID-19 coronavirus restrictions contributed to an overall decline in fruit and vegetable output in 2020, suggests Statistics Canada.
Sales were down 0.8% compared to 2019 while harvested area slipped 1.4% to 180,815 hectares.
Vegetable sales rose 2.5% to $1.3 billion in 2020, with the increase attributable mainly to higher farm-gate prices, while, for some commodities, yields were slightly above their respective five-year average yield. The sales increase was driven by higher sales of cabbage (+9.6%), sweet corn (+7.4%) and tomatoes (+6.4%). According to the Consumer Price Index, annual fresh vegetable prices rose at a much slower pace in 2020 (+3.0%) compared with 2019 (+12.7%).
Fruit cultivated area was stable in 2020 at 129,800 hectares, while bearing area fell 1.4% to 86,463 hectares. Fruit sales fell 4.3% to $1.2 billion, attributable mainly to lower sales of sweet cherries (-18.9%), grapes (-13.1%) and blueberries (-10.0%). Conversely, cranberry sales rose 16.1% to $154.9 million, primarily because of a rebound in sales in British Columbia, where the farm-gate value had fallen by 40.1% in 2019.
Spring and Early Summer Sales Dropped
Asparagus, one of the first vegetables to be harvested in the spring, was the first crop affected by labor shortages resulting from travel restrictions in March and April. Production fell by one-quarter (-24.3%) to 7.7 million kilogramsÂwell below the five-year average of 9.0 million kilograms. The decline in asparagus sales was less pronounced (-7.7% to $41.6 million) because farm-gate prices rose by over one-fifth (+18.4%).
Strawberry production (-11.4%) and sales (-2.3% to $127.5 million) were down compared with 2019, despite the popularity of u-pick activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Census data show that over two-thirds of strawberry farms (69.0%) reported farm-gate sales as well as stand, kiosk and u-pick sales in 2016.
Strawberry farmers in Nova Scotia (-16.9%) and Ontario (-10.2%) reported large sales declines in 2020, while sales in British Columbia were up 7.5% from 2019 and above the five-year average.
In British Columbia, fruit farmers reported lower levels of production for raspberries (-19.2%), sweet cherries (-18.6%), vinifera grapes (-15.2%), highbush blueberries (-13.7%) and apples (-12.1%). The declines were attributable to a late spring frost, followed by cooler summer temperatures in the Okanagan Valley.
Spring frost and summer drought conditions reduced wild blueberry production in the Maritimes, which affected national production downward by almost one-fifth (-18.9%) compared with 2019. Although farmers received higher prices for their crops, sales fell 8.3% to $112.2 million.
Wild blueberry production in Quebec rose 10.7% to 34.4 million kilograms, accounting for half of the national crop. Sales were up 1.2% to $53.0 million.
Warm Fall Helped Apple Growers, Hurt Vegetable Producers
Apple production rose 2.1% to 391 million kilograms, while sales rose 5.4% to $259 million, in part because of the popularity of u-pick apple orchards, considered a safe family outing during the pandemic.
Conversely, the mild fall weather was bad for root and storable vegetable farmers, particularly in Quebec, where farmers reported root suffocation problems related to dry and warm soil.
Nationally, carrot harvested area (-5.8% to 7 531 hectares) and marketed production (-6.0% to 333.9 million kilograms) were both down from 2019.
Dry onion production (-8.5%) was also down, but sales rose 1.0% to $113 million as a result of higher prices.
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