bc-090717-abbotsford-blueberry

Prices for blueberrries are expected to rise this year.

Japanese jam manufacturers are considering buying more wild blueberries from P.E.I., but evening out fluctuating prices will be a key part of signing the deal.

Fifteen members of the Japanese Jam Association visited the Island on the weekend. The association represents companies responsible for 60 per cent of Japan's blueberry imports. Member companies are currently buying two million pounds of berries a year from Wyman's, P.E.I.'s largest blueberry processor.

The association is interested in buying 20 per cent more blueberries from the Island, but fluctuating prices are making them nervous.

"What we are looking for is a steady price," said Koh Matsumoto of Kewpie Blue Flag, the country's largest jam manufacturer.

"Stable cost of fruits is No. 1 priority to us."

Prices have been particularly volatile recently. A glut of berries last year lowered prices to about 35 cents a pound. Early forecasts had prices drop even further this year, but the crop is poor in Quebec, and prices are expected to jump by as much as 30 per cent.

Wyman's has been signing year-to-year contracts with the Japanese, but now the buyers want a three- to five-year deal.

Wyman's general manager Homer Woodward said he's ready for a longer contract.

"That's probably the way we'll get these peaks and valleys out, is do long-term contracts with our customers," said Woodward.

"Eventually we'll have to work that down to our people that's raising the fruit."

Wyman's employs 20 full-time workers, and 60 to 70 seasonal staff. It buys berries from some of the Island's 125 wild blueberry growers.

A decision whether to sign the longer contract will likely be made in the next few months.