Normally at this time of year, chefs and home bakers alike are stocking up on gloriously juicy local blueberries—think of the pies, tarts, cobblers, sauces, scones, muffins, jams, smoothies, coffee cakes, and pancakes, you can make… The berries go just as well with salad greens and salmon as they do with yogurt and granola, and make for sweet seasonal spins on classic cocktails like mojitos and margaritas.
Our love of blueberries hasn’t wavered, but that’s about the only thing that has stayed the same for the industry this year.
BC Blueberry Council recently released its outlook for the 2020 harvest, and it’s clear that this is already proving to be one of the roughest summers on record.
The dismal weather over the last several weeks hasn’t helped. Cold, wet conditions have resulted in a significant decrease in crop volumes. Flooding and rain have created wet ground conditions, making it that harder to get picking machines out into fields.
“It’s a tough season following a tough year,” BC blueberry grower Jason Smith of Fraser Berry Farms said in a statement. “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."
A shortage of labour (notably when it comes to workers to pick fresh berries by hand), is only making matters worse. COVID-19 has resulted in a workforce reduction of about 50 percent. The frozen-berry market isn’t as vulnerable to labour issues, since it typically involves machine-harvesting.
The berry industry has urged the federal government remove the $1,000 limit cap on CERB to provide an incentive for people to come out and pick berries.
“In all my years I have never seen a year like this," Parm Bains, president of Westberry Farms, said in the release. “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 agriculture workers, the industry is really struggling,” he says. “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.”
On the positive side of things, demand for local blueberries is as strong as ever. U-pick farms are busy (with physical distancing measures in place); berries are selling well at grocery stores and farmers markets; and they’re showing up on menus all over the province.
B.C. is among the top five producers of highbush blueberries in the world, and blueberries are Canada’s leading small fruit export.
Until August 3, the BC Blueberry Council is running its #GoBlueBC campaign. How-to videos, chef and grower interviews, recipes, family-friendly activities, and a contest with grand prize presented by White Spot and Triple O’s worth $1,000 in gift cards are all online at www.gobluebc.com. There, you can also locate growers near you.
The season usually lasts into September.