British Columbia

B.C. farmers concerned about impact of scorching heat on blueberry crops

With a heat wave settling in, farmers worry record-high temperatures could cause plants to "shut down" to conserve moisture.

Record-high temperatures could cause plants to 'shut down' to conserve moisture

High temperatures can rush the ripening of crops and sometimes produce smaller berries. (Michael Mcarthur)

Blueberry growers in British Columbia are cautiously keeping an eye on their crops as scorching temperatures roll in across the province.

B.C. is one of the largest supplier of highbush blueberries — the variety commonly found in grocery stores— in the world and, according to the B.C. Blueberry Council, produces an average of about 73 million kilograms of blueberries each year.

An extreme heat wave, with highs in the 40s forecast for some regions, could mean crops that usually ripen over a few months could ripen all at once and cause a labour crunch. And those berries could be smaller than usual.

Blueberry season starts in June and can run as late as September.

Jack Bates, the co-owner of Tecarte Farms in Delta and the chair of the B.C. Blueberry Council, says some of his berries are just starting to colour and the heat wave could push them ahead of schedule.

"It'll certainly bring the fruit on quicker," said Bates, speaking on CBC's The Early Edition Friday

"You have to wait till they're ready to be picked, but if they come on all at once ... there's labour challenges for the people that are handpicking for the fresh market."

According to the B.C. Blueberry Council, B.C. produces 96 per cent of Canadian highbush blueberries and the industry has a $7 billion impact on the provincial economy. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

Bates said berries can also shrink in size when they are exposed to too much heat.

"They do sort of shut down in the heat to just try and survive," said Bates, explaining the moisture the plants store is used to keep them cooler in these situations, rather than being used to make the berries plumper.

The heat wave has only just arrived and, for now, Bates is keeping an eye on things and hoping for the best.

"We don't really don't know for sure how bad it's going to be this early in the season, so it's sort of the unknown," he said.

What he does know, however, is that the safety of berry pickers working in those fields as the mercury climbs is paramount.

"Health and welfare of people is the utmost, and, if  they're not feeling well or if it gets too hot, they just take a break," said Bates.

Bates said work will also start early in the morning when temperatures are coolest.

With files from The Early Edition

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