The British Columbia blueberry harvest is now underway amid ideal weather conditions, with peak volumes anticipated from around next week.
A good crop is expected but volumes may drop slightly year-on-year, according to an industry representative.
British Columbia Blueberry Council (BCBC) chair Jack Bates told Fresh Fruit Portal harvests had kicked off at the beginning of July in the Fraser Valley, the province’s main production region.
“Right now the weather conditions are excellent. We’ve had some nice days, and we haven’t had any rain in this area for about three weeks,” he said.
Warm and sunny conditions are expected for at least another 10 days or so, he added.
“Fruit quality is excellent, from everyone I’ve spoken to. Some of the size isn’t there but I guess really we’re just getting started. On my own farm we haven’t started picking yet, but in the valley certainly they’ve been going for about a week,” he said.
Bates expected peak volumes from the industry’s several hundred growers to be seen from July 17 or 18.
The season began later than in previous years, but he pointed out this was a more traditional start date. A similar trend has been seen with many summer fruit crops on the U.S. West Coast and in British Columbia.
The province produced some 68,000 metric tons (MT) in 2014, 73,000MT in 2015 and 77,000MT last year, but Bates not did believe the growth trend would continue this season.
“From what I’m hearing, I think the crop is maybe going to be down a bit, but how much I can’t really predict,” he said.
“There’s a good fruit set on the later varieties, but some of the early and mid-season varieties are definitely a bit lighter.”
He added new plantings and varieties over recent years had extended the British Columbia season into September, and ever later if weather permitted.
In general he noted the rate plantings had been going in the ground had slowed somewhat, but he mentioned many growers were trialing new varieties.
Market-wise he said the prices were at attractive levels in North America, with strong outlook in general in both Canada and the U.S.
“It’s started out with strong prices here in British Columbia. So it just depends on how much moves on the fresh side,” he said.
Data from market intelligence company Agronometrics shows average prices in U.S. wholesale markets were higher in week 27 than the previous three years.
Approximately half of each season’s yield is exported to markets outside of Canada, making blueberries the country’s most exported fruit, the BCBC had previously said.
In late May the association’s board chair Nancy Chong said much colder temperatures and wetter winter conditions had led to more work in the fields for growers, making it harder to get out in the orchards to take care of tasks like pruning.
“Last October and November were a bit warmer than usual, but a lot wetter than average, and then in December, we experienced a drastic drop in temperature and high winds,” Chong said at the time.