Due to pollination and other weather-related issues, blueberry crop volumes are anticipated to be down significantly from approximately 200 million pounds in 2019. Some fields are also flooded due to seepage from the Fraser River and excessive rain. These wet conditions make it difficult to get picking machines in the fields.
“It’s a tough season following a tough year,” notes BC blueberry grower Jason Smith of Fraser Berry Farms. “Yields are definitely down, but it is hard to say by how much at this point. I am also concerned there could be issues with the quality of the fruit from the excessive rainfall.”
With more than 25,000 acres in production, the need for labour is tremendous, and the pandemic has had a significant impact on labour availability. The reduction in workforce appears to be more than 50 per cent, particularly for handpicking. The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has been cited as playing a role in the decision of workers to remain home.
The market for frozen blueberries is less likely to be impacted by labour issues as berries for individually quick frozen) (IQF) are mainly machine harvested. The impact will be on fresh blueberry availability.
Parm Bains, president of Westberry Farms, states, “In all my years I have never seen a year like this. To have bad weather plus this labour shortage and COVID is not something we have ever had to face,” he notes. “Where possible we are trying to share workers and resources, and we are trying to support our growers who cannot find anyone to pick. With people not wanting to work because of CERB or concerns about the virus, plus fewer seasonal agricultural workers, the industry is really struggling. All we can do is realize we are all in this together, and do our best to help each other, but it is really tough.”
The berry industry has recommended to the federal government to remove the $1000 limit cap on CERB to provide an incentive for people to come out and help with berry picking. This would support the government’s Step Up to the Plate – Help feed Canadians campaign.
Learn more about the special promotion for fresh BC Blueberries at www.gobluebc.com It runs until August 3, 2020.
Source: BC Blueberry Growers July 23, 2020 news release