Three-year-old Jeffrey Dickie sampled another freshly picked strawberry and pronounced himself satisfied.
“Yummy,” the Mission resident said.
He was helping his mother collect the berries at an Abbotsford U-pick.
A few rows over, Leanne Neufeld of Abbotsford was remarking on the quality of this year’s earlier-than-usual crop.
“They’re big, they’re sweet, they’re wonderful,” Neufeld said as she filled her bucket.
They are also a potential headache for farmers who have had to bring in pickers several weeks sooner than usual and make sure they have enough water despite unusually hot conditions.
“We normally start picking in June,” Maan Farms owner Devinder Maan said. “I’ve never, ever seen raspberries in May. That’s so bizarre.”
Water is less of a worry for Maan than it was last year, when plants were dying in the scorching weather conditions.
“It was so hot the roots couldn’t survive,” Maan recalled.
She spent $70,000 to dig a well with an electric pump irrigation system and get it running in time for this year’s growing season.
Audrey Neufeld, owner of Neufeld farms, said she wasn’t surprised by the early beginning.
“There were lots of signs the season would start early,” she said.
“We were ready for this season. I had my pickers come in earlier.”
Neufeld said the growing season has begun even earlier than the previous year.
“We’re picking our June berries in May,” Neufeld said.
Blueberry Junction co-owner Linda Seale said their blueberry crop is running ahead of schedule, but a recent patch of cooler weather will likely mean it won’t be quite as early as last year.
“We machine-pick a lot of our crop,” so finding pickers isn’t as a big concern as it for some farms, Seale said.
Arina Onnink, owner of Onnink’s Blueberry Farm, said most of her regular crew of pickers was able to start earlier and that, combined with the wells that irrigate the berries, has made the situation manageable.
But the possibility of an overlap between the strawberry and raspberry crops does worry Onnink.
“I will be working 24 hours a day (if that happens),” Onnink said.
The early start to the berry growing season was the result of record warm temperatures.
In April, Environment Canada reported the average Abbotsford temperature was 12.9 C, breaking the previous record of 12.1 C set in 2004.
The agency said the heat wave was the result of an “El Niño spring” where warm ocean water off Peru and Ecuador was sending high temperatures north.
The trend was expected to ease off by the summer.
Leanne Neufeld was impressed with the quality of early season strawberries. DAN FERGUSON
Best friends Summer Scutt , 10 (at top) and Grace Giroux pick an extra-early crop of strawberries. DAN FERGUSON
Jeffrey Dickie, 3, from Mission samples a fresh-picked strawberry at Maan farms Wednesday. Local berry farms are coping with an even earlier start to the growing season than they endured last year. DAN FERGUSON