British Columbia

Picker shortage slows Vancouver Island blueberry harvest

As the mid-summer heat hastens the ripening of blueberries on Vancouver Island, local farmers are struggling to find pickers willing to brave scorching temperatures in the fields.

Extreme heat makes pickers scarce as fruit hits peak ripeness

Farmers are putting in extra time to make sure fruit does not rot in the fields. (Michael Mcarthur)

As the mid-summer heat hastens the ripening of blueberries on Vancouver Island, local farmers are struggling to find pickers willing to brave scorching temperatures in the fields.

The recent hot weather has been both a blessing and a curse for blueberry farmers. While crops are peaking earlier than in 2017, the fruit is quicker to soften and pickers are scarce as temperatures soar over 30 C, farmer Phil Christensen told Jason D'Souza host of CBC's On The Island.

"The extreme heat is not working with us. It's making it very difficult for pickers, whether they be the pros or the U-pickers," he said.

He says crops this year are "fabulous," as compared to last year's "abysmal" harvest and now his farm is working hard to get fruit off the bushes before they pass peak ripeness.

Crews are less productive and need longer breaks in the heat, making this bumper, blueberry harvest a race against the clock. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

Some farmers are more dependent than others on U-pick operations, which invite members of the public to pick their own berries and then pay for them by weight, said Diana Barkley of the B.C. Blueberry Council.

She said she has heard from recent conversations with farmers that they are putting in extra time to make sure fruit does not rot in the fields.

Farmers race against the clock

Christensen has closed his U-pick early in recent days due to lack of interest, and he is not the only island farmer to notice the drop in picker numbers.

Sherry Filopovic of Arbor Blueberry Farm said she has also noticed the shortage but plans to keep her U-pick open throughout the season. (Michael Mcarthur)

After hearing from others within the farming community that hiring professional pickers on the island was tough this year, Jagrup Dhaliwal of Ocean View Estates brought in her nephews to pick up the slack.

Sherry Filopovic of Arbor Blueberry Farm said she has also noticed the shortage but plans to keep her U-pick open throughout the season.

On the mainland, Langley farmer Alf Krause said his farm has a substantial U-pick operation, but he feels lucky because there is a bigger pool of recreational pickers to choose from as compared to the island. Even so, his paid crews are less productive and need longer breaks in the heat, making this bumper, blueberry harvest a race against the clock.

"We're thankful but definitely we're not getting through the fields as fast as we were last week."

With files from On the Island

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