07/14/2014 04:25 EDT | Updated 09/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Quebec strawberry fields ravaged by crop-ruining viruses

Strawberry growers in the Quebec City area are benefiting from the unintended consequences of a combination of viruses attacking strawberry crops across the southern part of the province.

Normally early July is prime strawberry-picking time.

With 560 strawberry-producing businesses in the province, Quebec is the biggest producer of the sweet fruit in the country.

But with viruses attacking plants in the greater Montreal region, as well as Lanaudière, the Eastern Townships and the Saguenay regions, many strawberry farmers are considering current infected crops a total loss.

The infected plants are dried up and are often times dwarfed, producing few berries if any at all. The fruit the plants do manage to produce are safe for consumption but don't come in marketable volumes.

Seedling suppliers sold infected plants 

As CBC Quebec City journalist Marika Wheeler reports, producers with smaller farms have been more seriously affected by the viruses because they tend to buy locally produced seedlings to cut down on shipping costs. 

The viruses are not apparent until some time after the seedlings are planted in the fields. The only solution, once farmers realize their crops are infected, is to destroy the fields and start again.

However, because strawberry fields only get picked in the second year after planting, it can take a long time to realize the plants are infected and an even longer time before farmers can turn a profit.

"The first time you get it you think maybe you got a bad winter, or maybe it was a bad season for the plants. You don't think you have the virus because you don't know about that. So you give another chance to the supplier, because you think maybe it was you. But we have to admit now, the problem wasn't the growers," said Guy Pouliot, owned of Ferme Onésime Pouliot on Île d'Orléans.

Like many farmers in the strawberry-rich region, he doesn't buy his plants from Quebec nurseries anymore. That's why farmers there are having an exceptionally successful year. 

In fact, producers there have been able to stock store shelves all over the province, making it appear as though there is no shortage to consumers.

Still, Pouliot is sensitive to other farmers' plight.

He said that it may be time for Quebec's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) to step in and begin its certification program again.

MAPAQ discontinued the program for Quebec strawberry producers in the 1990s, leaving nurseries to perform their own verification.