Manitoba's U-pick industry is growing again according to the executive director of the Prairie Fruit Growers Association.

"We're seeing an upswing right now. Things were pretty level for a few years, but now there seems to be an increase," says Waldo Thiessen. "They're estimating now that there are now over 10 million dollars of annual sales directly off the farms."

He says most growers are diversifying to give customers more choice and to extend the picking season.

"More farmers are offering seasonal fresh vegetables, things like pumpkins, gourds, honey, even cherries, apples, chokecherries and a whole lot of other things," he says. "They're also trying to offer more activities for the customers, not just berry picking anymore. They want to make it a complete experience and so they're adding things like corn mazes, selling products like jams and frozen pies, doing school tours, and just trying to get that repeat business."

He says berry patches across the province are in good shape heading into spring.

"We have had a phenomenal year. We got the snow early right at the end of November and it has just stayed. We like to see that because it gives us the insulation and protection for the plants."

As for the rain last week, Thiessen says there was enough snow cover in most areas to prevent any damage to the crop.

~ Thursday, February 10, 2011 ~