B.C. blueberry crops on collision course
July 26, 2015

Unseasonably cold weather in the east coupled with record-breaking heat in B.C. have put Lower Mainland blueberry farmers in a jam.blueberries_820133l65sq-300x300

The blueberry market in North America, ideally, has different regions producing blueberries at different times — creating a kind of marketplace harmony — beginning with production from Florida, moving up to Michigan, across to California, and ending in B.C. But with unusual weather patterns being experienced across the continent, this year’s blueberry harvests have been crunched together.

“So right now Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and B.C. are all producing at the same time,” said Debbie Etsell, executive director for the B.C. Blueberry Council. “There is a lot of fruit that is in market at the same time right now.”

According to Etsell, not only does the increase in supply provide challenges for local farmers as it drives down prices, but it also causes complications to purchasers who expect product from certain areas at certain times.

“Usually with B.C. not being until a bit later than some of the other [regions], it’s difficult to those stores to all of a sudden switch over their programs as well,” said Etsell. “So they have to be able to somewhat adjust and that doesn’t always happen.”

While there is usually some overlap in production from the different growing regions, especially in the beginning of B.C.’s blueberry season, towards the end B.C. usually holds a large market share.

“When our main crop comes in, we’re still competing with some U.S. fruit, but the tail end of our season — we run the blueberry market,” said Craig Seale from Blueberry Junction in Abbotsford. “We have the last fruit in North America.”

Driediger Farms Ltd. has been growing in Langley since the 1960s.

“It’s our earliest season ever,” said farm owner Rhonda Driediger. “New Jersey was late, and some other regions were late on the East Coast so they started essentially the same time we did.”

According to Driediger, individual quick-frozen tunnels, used to commercially freeze berries, have helped B.C. farmers adapt to the changing weather and markets.

“There’s people avoiding fresh because the prices are not good, because there are so many people shipping,” said Driediger. “Its just supply and demand, lots of supply, low demand, equals low prices, so right now we are diverting products into the freezers.”