Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Fruit Production
Wild blueberry producers considering industry’s sustainability


November 30, 1999
By Dan Woolley

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The Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia (WBPANS) is looking to the future.

The Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia (WBPANS) is looking to the future.

The organization has put together a functioning committee to oversee the industry’s long-term sustainability. Known as the Industry Sustainability Committee, the group has met five times since March 2011 in response to recommendations passed at the organization’s 2010 annual general meeting, reported Jeff Orr, a committee member and WBPANS board director.

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Since its inception, the group has formed a market and pricing committee and compiled a brief report on prices, explained Orr, adding the sustainability committee plans to support more research into cost-effective production methods, which will be communicated to WBPANS members. The committee will also be lobbying government to enhance existing program and make governmental policy makers aware of the industry’s concerns about crop insurance and the Agri-Stability program.

“Our committee chairman Allan Bonnyman has said we are price takers, not price makers and no one has any idea how to change this,” said Orr.

It’s hoped the sustainability committee will engage with WBPANS on the formation of best management practices (BMP) for the industry. As well, the WBPANS strategic plan, drafted in 1998, needs updating and the committee will work on the revision over the next year, said Orr.

The WBPANS held its annual general meeting in the fall of 2011. The group concluded the gathering by splitting into three discussion groups. The groups looked at examples of cost-effective production methods WBPANS members could share with each other and also discussed ideas that could be presented in the future WBPANS BMP Manual and on the organization’s website.

The three discussion group facilitators – Dale McIsaac, Jeff Orr and Peter Burgess – took the best ideas from the three groups back to WBPANS and the sustainability committee.

Burgess, an extension specialist with AgraPoint, is developing a Best Management Plan for the WBPANS over the next 12 months.

“[It] will provide a road map for new growers and guide posts for existing growers,” he said.

The BMP will give the industry an opportunity to tell its story to the public while creating a proactive approach to cropping practices, said Burgess, adding the BMP will include information pertaining to pest management, nutrient management, whole farm management, business risk management through Agri-Invest and Agri-Stability, field management: pruning, mowing, burning and harvesting.

“We are not re-inventing the wheel,” Burgess said. “It will bring information all together in one spot.”

Peter Rideout with the N.S. Department of Agriculture (NSDA) expressed concern with the province’s wild blueberry industry’s continued profitability and productivity, noting in recent years, yield has declined compared to other eastern provinces and states.

WBPANS president John Quinn added that a large variation in annual berry production leads to a wide variation in field prices growers receive.

In 2009, growers received the lowest field price ever at 35 cents per pound compared to 77 cents per pound as of August 14, 2011.

Growers need pricing information to make informed field management decisions, said Quinn, adding information is important in deciding what fields to harvest or leave untended, the intensity level of field management, whether to buy or sell land, or to not harvest a specific field.

“There is no way you can predict the price; but you can predict a trend,” he said.

Processors need an ongoing supply of wild blueberries and the berry field price can affect the berry supply availability, said Quinn.

 He says the factors affecting the 2012 field price of wild blueberries will involve the level of berries in cold storage from the 2011 harvest, the price of processed berries, the total volume of cultivated (highbush) blueberry production in 2012, and the total yield next year of wild blueberries.

There is a cycle in the frozen storage level of wild blueberries, Quinn said, with the volume decreasing from January to June, increasing in July and peaking in August, then decreasing until the end of the year. Cold storage stocks have now returned to 2006 levels, he said.

“Early in 2011, it became clear the level of frozen berries would come down to reasonable levels.”

Quinn said he feels there is room for an additional price increase for growers, noting the frozen processed berry price increased from $1.65 to more than $2.00 per pound by the end of the harvest in September, to around $2.15 per pound by November 14, 2011, FOB at the Maine processing plants.

Rideout insisted current research efforts be sustained to maintain the industry’s sustainability, especially considering the influx of new growers entering the industry through inter-generational transfer.

He also stressed the industry has to maintain the difference between wild blueberries and other fruits in the market, noting some berries from the Pacific Northwest and China are claiming to be wild blueberries.