Dec 16, 2016Quebec berry growers tout innovative approaches
One of the leading horticulture researchers in Canada hosted a farm stop during the North American Strawberry Growers Association’s (NASGA) summer tour.
Grower Andre Gosselin, a professor of horticulture at Laval University in Quebec City, owns Les Fraises Île d’Orléans (FIO), consisting of five small farms of 20 to 50 acres each.
The operation employs 10 permanent and 100 seasonal workers. FIO grows mainly summer and day-neutral strawberry and primocane and floricane fruiting raspberries. Strawberries are grown outdoors, in mini-tunnels and in large high tunnels. Raspberries are grown only in soilless culture under high tunnels.
Faced with various soil diseases, FIO invested in soilless production of strawberry and raspberry instead of using chemical fumigants, Gosselin said. In soilless culture, the nutrient solutions are recuperated, filtered and recirculated, resulting in no negative impact on the environment. Predators and organic pesticides are used as much as possible.
Food chains Loblas, Metro, Sobeys and Walmart are the most important clients for both strawberry and raspberry. Most of the fruit are sold in supermarkets in central and eastern Canada.
“We grow day-neutral strawberries, maybe 25 acres,” Gosselin said. “For raspberries, we have 20 acres under high tunnels and a few acres of raspberries in ever-bearing. We have a couple acres of blackberry started a couple years ago.”
Gosselin said “when we learned that fumigants were disappearing, we began moving slowly and progressively to soilless culture, much like the Dutch, Belgians and others in Europe.”
The operation has 5 acres of table-top strawberries, using Monterey and Seascape cultivars. The farm starts bare-root tree plants the previous year, storing them in cold storage. They are planted in early April, with the first crop in June, which produces for two or three weeks.
“We are now in full production in tunnels,” he said.
The farm’s 8-10 acres of soilless, everbearing raspberries are just starting to produce in 10-liter pots, irrigated with a nutrient solution, depending on the weather.
“We use the same fertigation, irrigation as we do in the strawberries,” Gosselin said.
“We keep two plants per pot and we start to harvest now until the end of October,” he said. “The best yield is in one or two weeks from now, until the first week of October. The quality is good. We will produce a few hundred flats a day, keeping the same nutrient strategy for the whole system. You need a good control system for the irrigation.”
He said raspberries sell “for twice the price as California, but we have a limited number and volume. We’re still learning.”
In Quebec, Gosselin said, field strawberries, which are produced from June to September, have the greatest market value. However, the climatic conditions during this period (especially rainfall) are frequently suboptimal for strawberry production.
He said covering strawberries by using low tunnels is an “innovative and an interesting technique” that had never been studied for strawberry production in Canada. Low tunnels protect crops from the rain and also against the chilling stress often caused by low temperatures in spring and fall. The other advantage of using this technique is the extension of the harvest period by two to three weeks (until the beginning of October), when the market value is at its best.
Gosselin was part of an experiment conducted on Île d’Orléans to study the use of low tunnels on the day-neutral cultivar Seascape, in comparison with open fields. Researchers determined the effects of different polyethylene (PE) films (clear or thermal) with different aeration conditions (0 percent, 1 percent and 2 percent) on growth, yield and quality of fruits.
Low tunnels increased inside air temperature during cold weather conditions (including periods of frost). An improvement in growth, yield and quality of strawberries was measured under low tunnels. They can extend the production period by offering 1.7 to three times more marketable yield in the fall. The effects of low tunnels are much greater during cool and rainy seasons. The PE films had no significant difference for all parameters measured, Gosselin said.
The NASGA tour visited a number of other operations in the region.
The five-generation Methot family has been farming in the Saint-Nicolas area outside of Quebec City since 1856.
Vincent Methot, is a current owner of the operation with his parents, Francois Methot, Lise Gosselin and Vincent’s brother, Francois-Guillaume Methot.
The 70-acre farm cultivates mostly strawberries, followed by raspberries. It also has a swine nursery and 3,500 square feet of hydroponic tomatoes.
The strawberries are 100 percent under plasticulture and are micro-irrigated. The farm was one of the first to introduce day-neutral strawberries in 1988. Vincent Methot said the farm is always improving its techniques and is growing more of its raspberries in coconut fiber containers.
In a high season, Methot employs up to 80 employees for the production, delivery and marketing of its products.
Vincent Methot said marketing is varied and includes pick-your-own, on-farm sales, public market, supermarkets, restaurants, local retailers and a large presence in nearby Montreal.
Fraisiere Talfor farm, owned by Claude and Josee Talbot, is involved in several research projects, including some out-of-soil, day-neutral strawberry production systems that were discussed by Jacques Painchaud and Marc Oiuruer of the Ministère de l’Agriculture.
The sixth-generation Genest farm operation located in St. Nicolas, along the St. Lawrence River, is run by Guy Genest and Nicole St. Hilaire, who were joined by their daughter, Laura, in 2014. The farm owns 200 acres of berries and vegetables, and a cultivated forest including 22,000 trees. The family also operates a pastry shop, jam factory and a section for u-pick berries.
Production Horticole Demers in Saint Nicolas is a 50-year-old operation that uses environmentally friendly growing techniques, including insect predators to fight insect pests; greenhouses heated with biomass waste; and heat reservoirs to store energy produced during the day and released into the greenhouses.
Owner Rejean Demers said the farm moved from the matted-row system for strawberry production his father used for decades to a plasticulture system. In 2006, the farm started growing raspberries and built larger greenhouses. The farm currently has 84 acres of strawberries and 7 acres of raspberries. The greenhouses are in four locations totaling 16 acres. There are 6.5 acres of tomatoes and peppers, along with some cucumbers.
The farm employees more than 230 people, Demers said.
Weather cycles play a crucial role in Quebec strawberry production.
“We have a pretty short season,” Demers said. “In Quebec, we can be sure of two months – July and August – of no frost. We can have frost in June and September.”
Demers uses short-day and day-neutral plants, with fresh plugs and dormant bare root. The fresh plugs variety is mainly Clery, planted in mid-August.
“We harvest the following year in early June to early July,” he said. “Yields tend to be 10-15 tons per hectare.”
Using dormant bare root, early varieties include Wendy and Stella; mid-season, Jewel and Sonata; late season, Record, Valley Sunset; very late, Malwina.
“The planting date is the beginning of June, with harvest the second year, mid-July to the beginning of August.”
Demers said “the first year yield is pretty low, but at that time there’s not a lot of strawberries on the market, so the price is very good. These plants also will root the second year at the end of June to beginning of August.”
For day-neutrals, fresh plug varieties are Seascape and Monterey, with a planting date of Aug. 15-25. Harvest is early June to mid-October, with yields at 24-34 hectares per acre.
Dormant bare root also features Seascape and Monterey, planted April 15 to May 15, with early July to mid-October harvest at 24-34 hectares per acre, Demers said.
Berry production research abounds in the province of Quebec.
Paul Deschênes is a researcher with the Quebec-based Institute of Research & Development for Agroenvironment (IRDA). He spoke during the eighth International Strawberry Symposium, held in mid-August in Quebec City. One of his projects studied irrigation strategies for day-neutral strawberries (Seascape cultivar).
In Quebec, day-neutral strawberries are usually grown in raised beds covered with black polyethylene mulch and watered by drip irrigation. This type of cropping system is conducive to drying of the soil surrounding the drip line. The physical properties of the soil also influence soil water distribution within beds. For this reason, Deschênes said, it is essential to be aware of the soil water dynamics and adjust the irrigation strategy accordingly.
A number of strategies such as varying the spacing between emitters (10 to 30 cm), the application rate per emitter (0.008 to 0.024 L/min), the application run time (20 to 60 min), the volume of water per application (12 to 50 L) and the number of drip lines (one to two) were studied in in commercial strawberry production at Ferme François Gosselin on Île d’Orléans, Quebec.
The parameters studied were soil water distribution, root development, yield and water use efficiency. During the period of maximum productivity, the use of two drip lines increased yield by 19.4 percent, while 30 cm spacing between emitters with one drip line decreased yield.
Using two drip lines required twice the volume of water relative to other strategies, Deschênes said. Spacing emitters closer together both increased yield and improved soil moisture.
He said it is advisable to restrict water volume, increase irrigation frequency and increase the number of emitters.
Strawberry varieties for Quebec
Appropriate Quebec strawberry varieties, as recommended by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada sub-station in L’Acadie: June-bearing: Annapolis, Chambly, Harmonie, Honeoye, Kent, La Clé des Champs, Mira, Saint Laurent, Saint-Pierre, Yamaska.
Good varieties for Quebec, according to Lareault Nursery:
June-bearing: Annapolis, Bounty, Cabot, Cavendish, Chambly, Clé des Champs, Évangéline, Flavorfest, Glooscap, Harmonie, Harriot, Honeoye, Jewel, Kent, Lila, Mira, Sable, St-Jean d’Orléans, St-Pierre, Serenity, Sparkle, Summer Dawn, Summer Rose, Summer Ruby, Valley Sunset, Veestar, Wendy.
Day-neutral: Albion, Charlotte, Mara des bois, Monterey, Seascape.