Raising minimum wage hurts strawberry and raspberry growers

Many Quebecers are feverishly waiting for June and July to enjoy their favorite fruits: strawberry and raspberry from Quebec. Behind these traditional products are busy producers, who, despite the consumer craze, are increasingly in financial difficulty and are sometimes forced to leave the field.
C ome factors explain the reduction in producers of strawberries and raspberries in Quebec: a fierce competition with products from Mexico and California, performance difficulties associated with the climate and rising minimum wage, which increased 16% these last three years.

“In recent years, we have seen a real decrease in producers in Quebec, and it is clear that the factor for increasing the minimum wage is important since more than 50% of the production costs are dedicated to the workforce” explains the executive director of the Association of Strawberry and Raspberry Producers of Quebec, Jennifer Crawford.

The President of Ferme François Gosselin, Louis Gosselin, is directly affected by this rise in the minimum wage. Since the strawberries must be picked by hand, he can not reduce his team to the field. “With the increase of the minimum wage beyond the cost of inflation, it is the profit margin that decreases directly every year,” he laments.

The same goes for the co-owner of Ferme Onésime Pouliot, Guy Pouliot. “The rise in the minimum wage is shaking the financial industry of strawberry and raspberry farms. With the minimum wage going from $ 10.75 to $ 12.50, there was a 10% loss of producers, “he says. According to him, market gardeners should suffer the same consequences since 40% of their expenditure is devoted to labor.

Struggle to preserve Quebec products

According to several producers, it would be disadvantageous to increase the prices of strawberries and raspberries to make up the shortfall. “The prices are pretty much the same for the last four years and it’s very difficult to increase because we are in direct competition with California fruit,” says Louis Gosselin.

Increasing the price of berries would have immediate repercussions, believes Jennifer Crawford. “Since we have a lot of Quebec producers, that gives us a place in the market,” she explains. With a decrease in these and an increase in the price of local products, there is still the fear that consumers will turn to exported products. ”

In the long term, many producers want to find new ways to increase their productivity; but in the short term, it remains very complex since they can not do without their workforce. To support producers, the Quebec Strawberry and Raspberry Growers Association has asked the government for financial assistance. “We hope the government will hear our message,” says Jennifer Crawford.

THE STRAWBERRY SEASON LIGHTLY DELAYED

Strawberries should reappear on grocery store counters in the Quebec City area in mid-June, a few days later than usual.

The late melting of the snow and the cold spring are the main factors behind the delay of the strawberry season. “We are slightly out of step with 2018, which was also late,” says François Gosselin Farm President Louis Gosselin. According to him, this shift of a few days is not dramatic and should not have any consequences on the number of strawberries to pick.

However, if the delay is combined with heat waves this summer, this could have financial repercussions. “The more the season is delayed, the warmer the days and the faster the fruits become red”, underlines the co-owner of Onésime Pouliot Farm, Guy Pouliot. According to him, if there are more strawberries in less time, it could concentrate production and put pressure on prices. Same observation for Louis Gosselin. “When we have a heat wave in early July, in the middle of the production season, the fruits will ripen faster. It’s a bit like what we saw last year, “he explains.

A beneficial white coat

Last year, the change in temperature in the winter had severely damaged the plantations. This winter, the continuous snowpack has preserved the plantations. “In eastern Quebec, our plantations were very well protected because the snow remained on the ground,” says Guy Pouliot. This is also noticed by Louis Gosselin, who is optimistic about the upcoming harvest. “Since the fields are beautiful, the yields are likely to be good,” he says confidently.

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