Blueberry producers on the Acadian Peninsula say they’re worried what new competition in the area will mean to their future.
They say the New Brunswick government's transfer of almost 6,285 hectares of land to Oxford Frozen Foods is preferential treatment to the Nova Scotia blueberry company.
Verne Losier says it’s already hard enough to make a living growing blueberries.
“It's getting more technical every year and the industry is asking for a better reliable product most of the time,” he said.
In return, Oxford Frozen Foods agreed to build a $184-million processing plant and develop fields in the area.
The plan is expected to create up to 300 jobs over a 10-year period and contribute up to $8.6 million annually to the province's gross domestic product.
“A newcomer coming from Nova Scotia gets 17,000 acres of land which they get for exchanging no-good land as we hear for beautiful forested land, which is the prime blueberry land in northern New Brunswick,” said Losier.
Tracadie-Sheila mayor supports business
Many local producers lease Crown land for their business. Now some feel slighted that a big company has gained quick ownership, especially in a deal where growers weren't consulted.
On Thursday the local growers' association held a meeting to make their demands clear. They want two things: more access to Crown land and the option to privatize.
Jean-Maurice Landry, a spokesperson for the Northeast Wild Blueberry Growers Association, says they want the first slice of the pie.
“We are asking that the land that the producers have been leasing for five years or more be privatized as well,” he said.
Tracadie-Sheila Mayor Aldéoda Losier says Oxford Frozen Foods, and the economic growth it could bring, should be welcomed.
“I think the peninsula needs a big producer. Maybe the province and the association can sit down and come to an agreement instead of going on and on like we are doing right now,” he said.
The government has offered 2,266 hectares to growers on the peninsula,
But Landry says it's second-rate land and nowhere close to being as useful or accessible as the spot traded to Oxford.
“We got no room to expand now except for those crappy lands that have been scarified that's left. Land that is on the old military range,” he said.
Since the deal is done, the growers say they’re focused on co-existing with the new processing plant and its owners and staking their claim on what little land is left.