Smaller wild blueberry harvest predicted this year

 Dave Yarborough

Dave Yarborough

 Peter Rideout

Peter Rideout

 Neri Vautour

Neri Vautour

by Dan Woolley
At the 2017 Maritime Wild Blueberry Field Day, Nova Scotia Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell promised the 325 growers from the three Maritime provinces attending the event at Doug Bragg Enterprises in Collingwood, N.S., that he will work with his New Brunswick and P.E.I. ministerial counterparts to improve the wild blueberry market.
He also promised to work with the Nova Scotia wine industry during the price slump to have wild blueberries used in wine production.
In addition, Colwell said that his department will work on market development in China. “It is a huge market,” he said.
“We have to have high quality,” Colwell added. “Quality sells. We have to market new, value-added products.”
Neri Vautour, executive-director of the Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA) in Canada, said the association has increased its global market promotion in response to low prices for the fruit, adding, “When China decides it wants wild blueberries, it will be an incredible demand.”
Vautour also noted WBANA Canada’s recent meeting with federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne. 
He said WBANA is also pleased with Canada’s signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, noting, “It will help, particularly with value-added product.”
Chinese tariffs on Canadian wild blueberries are currently 30 percent, but Chilean cultivated blueberries enter China duty-free, said Vautour. However, he added that Chinese President Xi Jinping recently stated that China will start free trade negotiations with Canada, which Vautour said was “very good news for us.”
“You are very fortunate to have a minister (Colwell) to speak to you on a Saturday at your field day when your industry is in trouble,” concluded Vautour.
Mike Melanson, a crop specialist with New Brunswick’s agriculture department, said he expects a variable blueberry crop this year because some areas had good pollination while other areas were challenging. 
Last year, the New Brunswick harvest was around 89 million pounds. But Melanson said he expects this year’s harvest to total 60-65 million pounds.
Chris Jordan, a berry crop development officer with P.E.I.’s agriculture department, said the Island’s wild blueberry crop looked pretty good and he expects it will come in at about 30 million pounds, although he added that there’s increased pressure from Monilinia blight.
Peter Burgess, Perennia’s blueberry specialist, said he expects the Nova Scotia crop will be down this year from last year’s total of just over 60 million pounds due to variable weather, more pressure from Monilinia and Botrytis blight, and the fact that some growers are scaling back production.
Dr. Dave Yarborough, a University of Maine crop specialist, said the Maine crop will be down this year due to very poor pollination and weather. He said Maine growers had trouble applying pesticides because of the weather.
Maine growers harvested more than 100 million pounds in each of the last three years, but Yarborough said he expects this year’s crop to total around 75 million pounds.
Yarborough predicted this year’s Quebec harvest at about 89 million pounds. Last year, Quebec growers harvested approximately 126 million pounds.
This year, the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia (WBPNS) hired marketing firm Nurture Atlantic of Fredericton to help it boost the wild blueberry price.
Greg Connell, Nurture Atlantic’s CEO, said his firm is working on an initiative to boost consumer and retailer awareness of the wild blueberry brand. He said the promotion will appear in the late summer and early fall at various regional festivals.
Peter Rideout, WBPANS executive-director, said he was encouraged by some recent developments in international markets, with a significant decline in the European bilberry crop this year.
North American high-bush blueberry production is also down, said Rideout, with significant frost injury in the southeastern United States, adding that the high-bush crop in the Pacific northwestern states is also down 30-60 percent. He noted that with a very strong market for fresh fruit, there will be less competitive pressure on wild blueberries in the frozen and processing market. 
Rideout also noted that high-bush volumes in Michigan and New Jersey are also down due to a cold, wet spring.