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Dorothy Roode is tree lot supervisor on the 53-hectare Christmas tree farm in Hardwood Lands, Hants County. The tree farm was hit by the late frost, which affected many farms in Nova Scotia. Trees hit by the frost were not killed off but growth was impeded. ERIC WYNNE/Chronicle Herald
Dorothy Roode is tree lot supervisor on the 53-hectare Christmas tree farm in Hardwood Lands, Hants County. The tree farm was hit by the late frost, which affected many farms in Nova Scotia. Trees hit by the frost were not killed off but growth was impeded. - ERIC WYNNE / Chronicle Herald

A heavy spring frost had an effect on Nova Scotia’s Christmas tree output this year, but industry experts say families shouldn’t have to resort to a fake.

The freeze, which took place on June 4, has resulted in about a 40 per cent reduction in usable crop, Angus Bonnyman, executive director of the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, told The Chronicle Herald.

Bonnyman said 60 per cent of about million trees, mostly balsam fir, harvested each year by the province’s more than 300 farms are produced in southwestern Nova Scotia, which was the hardest area hit.

“It was a once in a hundred years, kind of a freak weather event. Essentially it was below zero temperatures for several hours and the result was that the new growth burned off of the tips of the branches,” Bonnyman said. “So, if you were to walk through a parts of southwestern Nova Scotia the day after (the freeze) it would smell like a forest fire had gone through.”

Trees further north were less affected because their new growth starts later in the year.

Bonnyman said some trees were totally lost, while others were not marketable this year but may recover by next holiday season. Some trees were marketable this year but at a significantly lower grade, which yields a lower price on the market.

And it’s not just Christmas trees — apple crops and blueberry crops were also heavily impacted by the frost. Bonnyman, who also happens to own a blueberry farm, said this year he only harvested a quarter of what he was expecting to.

About 90 per cent of the trees produced in Nova Scotia are shipped outside the province and sold across Canada, the United States and Caribbean.

But even with the reduced inventory, Bonnyman said, Nova Scotians should still be able to find themselves a real tree.

“We believe that there should be a real tree for everyone in Nova Scotia should they want one, we just encourage people to shop early for best selection,” he said.

Bonnyman said he doesn’t have data at this point on how the freeze will affect prices this year, but he said he expects the average consumer won’t see a major difference.

Jason Scotthorn, one of the owners of a 53-hectare Christmas tree farm in East Hants, said he won’t be jacking up prices even though about 80 per cent of his trees were damaged by the frost earlier in the year.

“That’s not fair to the customer,” he said.

“We usually ship to (the Carribbean), we’ll start cutting them the end of October and keep them in refrigerated containers. This year, we never shipped one tree.”

Instead, Scotthorn said this year they’ll be focusing on U-Pick sales. Some of the trees had less damage than others, mostly “late bloomers” that didn’t have much new growth when the freeze occurred in June.

Because Christmas tree farming is more of a side project for Scotthorn Farms — the main source of income is his family’s large dairy herd — he said thankfully his bottom line will not be as effected as some of the larger outfits.

Bonnyman said the effect of the freeze will likely last a few years, so it’s too early to tell exactly what the financial losses to the province’s Christmas tree industry will be. He said his organization is already looking at different risk management and relief programs through the provincial and federal governments.

“There are some (growers) that have been pretty severely hit,” Bonnyman said.

“We did receive some support from the province in the form of a request for late enrolment in AgriStability, which is a program that protects the margins of growers.”

The council is also in talks about possibly opening an AgriRecovery claim, a federal-provincial risk management tool aimed at helping agricultural producers recover from natural disasters.

Bonnyman said he’s hopeful that a new type of heartier balsam fir known a Smart trees being developed by scientists at Dalhousie will be the holy grail for the Nova Scotia’s Christmas tree industry.

“We’re hopeful that the trees being developed are going to be better able to deal with unseasonably late frosts like this, but that remains to be seen,” he said

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