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Sackville and area blueberry growers challenged by this summer’s dry conditions, low prices

Blueridge Blueberries employees work the fresh-pack line machine during a night shift last week.
Blueridge Blueberries employees work the fresh-pack line machine during a night shift last week.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Short-term pain for long-term gain.

That’s how some local blueberry growers are looking at this year’s season, which saw smaller yields than usual and prices of wild blueberries at an all-time low.

“We haven’t produced the crops like we have in the past couple of years,” said John Wilson, owner of Blueridge Blueberries in Sackville. “But I think maybe that’s a good thing.”

Wilson acknowledged this summer has been a tough one, particularly for smaller producers who struggle more to “last through times like this,” when prices are at record lows and when weather affects the crops.

But he said unfortunately an oversupply of berries from the past two to three seasons has created a glut in the market that needs to work itself out.

“We’re a victim of our own success, in a way,” said Wilson.

Unprecedented bumper crops in New Brunswick in both 2015 and 2016 resulted in a huge surplus of inventory, with freezers ending up stocked full of berries and creating a drop in demand this year. He said New Brunswick producers essentially harvested three years of crops in two over those two seasons and their main markets –the US, Germany, Japan and Europe – haven’t been able to accommodate the increased supply.

So local growers are hopeful this year’s low yields, which are reported at about 25 per cent less in the Tantramar area, may help dwindle that inventory and “use up what has been in the freezer” so they can start fresh again next year.

“The lower crop may not be a bad thing in the long run,” said Tom Trueman, owner of Trueman’s Blueberry Farms in Aulac. “It’s better than if there were a record year. Hopefully it will let the inventory work its way out.”

Some of the crates of berries waiting to be sorted at Blueridge Blueberries.

But he did point out that some growers might not be able to tough out the storm, saying that with prices down to 20 cents a pound, there is no profit to be made.

“You can burn through an awful lot of equity in years like this,” said Trueman.

Typically, blueberry farmers across the province make between 30 and 50 cents per pound for wild blueberries, sometimes more. Wilson said for him, the cost of production alone is about 35 cents a pound so these record low prices can certainly create financial difficulties. And because it’s not known when those prices will rebound, it may force some growers to re-assess if and how to grow next year’s crop.

Wilson, who harvests about 30 to 40 acres, said this year’s unusually dry summer, which was preceded by a cool and damp spring, did not create favourable conditions for his crops, which were down about 25 per cent.

Trueman reported his yields were down about the same, noting that his crops showed great potential early on in the season but faltered a bit with the lack of precipitation later in the summer.

“If we had rain, we would have had a record harvest,” he said.

Last year, the province produced a record 80 million pounds of wild blueberries, up from between 20 to 30 million pounds a decade ago. Wilson explained growers are getting better at what they do and have seen huge improvements in management techniques over the years – and are now able to produce an average of 10,000 pounds per acre compared to 2,000 pounds 20 years ago.

 

 

Did you know?

– Recognized as one of nature’s super fruits, wild blueberries are low in fat, high in fibre, an excellent source of manganese and have more than twice as many antioxidants as most other fruits.

– There are 39,000 acres, both private and Crown land, currently under production in multiple locations and at various stages across the province, from the Acadian Peninsula to Charlotte County. The wild blueberry industry currently supports an estimated 440 jobs.

– More than 300 farm families are involved in the province’s wild blueberry industry. New Brunswick accounts for 25 per cent of Canada’s overall production.

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