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U-pick season will come with some changes at local berry farms this year

(iStock Photo)

U-pick season will look a little different this year as berry farms adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic

Some local farms are hoping people will spread out their picking days through the week and not just the weekend

It's unclear yet just how much the COVID-19 pandemic will impact local berry farms' bottom lines

LANGLEY (NEWS 1130) – The local berry season is shaping up to be a good one, but popular U-pick destinations will look a little different this year as COVID-19 forces some changes.

Rhonda Driediger, owner of Driediger Farms in Langley, says they have been busy dealing with inquiries about whether or not they will be open for DIY harvesting this year.

“We will be open for U-pick strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. We will put in some protocols to help people socially distance because we assume this situation will be with us all summer,” she tells NEWS 1130.

Driediger expects the farm will not see the typical weekend crowds, hoping family groups will be smaller and that people will spread out visits through the week.

“I think there’s more and more people working from home and they’re going to be able to come out Monday through Friday. We are really going to encourage that, hoping that will help people stay apart from each other.”

Nearby, Krause Berry Farms is also putting measures in place to ensure guests observe proper physical distancing.

“Obviously we will spread people out through the field … we may have to limit numbers depending on how busy it is,” says Alf Krause, who owns the farm with his wife Sandee.

“And I think all the growers will be using only containers from the farm and selling by volume instead of weighing the berries in order to reduce interactions with the staff,” he says. “It will actually speed up the process as well, so there’s a positive there.”

“Our whole purpose is to give excellent care to each other, our staff and our guests,” explains Sandee, adding that their market operations will also be modified to comply with COVID-19 measures, including the addition of a drive-thru and expanding online sales.

“We’ve really expanded our online store so we will keep that going for people who just want the product, not the experience. They can do an online pre-order and pick-up or they can do a drive-thru pick-up.”

The Krauses have also partnered with JRG restaurants and public houses to help create local pop-up markets from Vancouver to Chilliwack.

“Their freezers and coolers were empty and they’d laid off their staff. Our freezers were full of pies and berries and their parking lots were empty,” says Sandee.

“By partnering together we were able to provide them with our products and they were able to bring staff back to work. They’ve also partnered with Darvonda Nurseries and their parking lots are now really abuzz with customers.“

Meanwhile, at Driediger Farms, the pandemic has affected the availability of their seasonal workforce.

“We have 12 of our 30 temporary foreign workers in,” says Driediger. “We will be bringing in the balance but, of course, they will now have to go through quarantine so they’ve been delayed several months. We will now keep them right up until December 15th to work on the farm just to make sure they get the hours they need.”

She points out costs are rising for everything except fuel right now, but she can’t say yet how much the pandemic will affect their bottom line for the year.

“We don’t know that yet in agriculture. Our income isn’t month-to-month like a normal business. Our income is huge for four months in the summer and then it tapers off the other eight months. We have all of our expenses right now but our income is still coming up. We don’t know how much of an impact it will have had until probably September.”

The Krauses also wonder how the COVID-19 situation will affect them, come year-end.

“That’s a very good question. If we just had that crystal ball it could tell us if we are going to make money or if we should just stay closed,” laughs Alf.

“We’ve been here for 46 years and we’ve built up many loyal guests. A lot of people feel afraid but we feel that our guests will pull us through this. We know that they love the farm and that they love coming out here,” adds Sandee.

“There are challenges,” says Alf.

“But we’re farmers,” Sandee chimes in. “We’re used to dealing with things. There’s always going to be something, you just don’t know what it’s going to be. We’re used to being adaptable and flexible.”

“It’s actually kind of nice we’re not talking about the weather for once,” chuckles Alf.