Northeastern blueberry growers, pickers lack buyers for crop
Growers say Oxford Foods and Jasper Wyman have both stopped buying from independent producers
Blueberry growers and pickers on the Acadian Peninsula say they are harvesting only a fraction of the blueberries they normally sell because there is no one to buy the fruit.
"This morning we came here and they gave us 30 boxes each. Many of those people can pick 100, 110 boxes a day. Now we are kept to this," said Real Pinette, a picker of 15 years in the Val Doucet area.
"We pick for the Co-op here in Val Doucet, and they sell that to the big company, Oxford. They give such a low price, we're not going to survive with that."
Oxford Foods, based in Oxford, N.S., is a longtime buyer of northeastern New Brunswick berries, but has scaled back its purchasing in 2016 due to mechanical difficulties at one of its Nova Scotia plants, growers say.
The company built a processing facility earlier this summer in Bois-Gagnon, and has several fields of its own to help supply the demand.
"We don't have much work. For us that's a big thing," said Pinette.
Work days are also shorter for pickers in the region. Many of the seasonal workers on the peninsula used to work eight-hour days. This year, the fields are harvested only a few hours each day, leading to worries about Employment Insurance claims and the extent of benefits the workers can recoup in the off-season.
Growers say Jasper Wyman out
President and CEO Ed Flanagan confirmed the company "isn't looking for new growers," but could not confirm whether or not last year's purchasing relationships had been preserved.
The company had used an agent to facilitate trade in the past and therefore Flanagan was unable to say which growers have been providing fruit to the company.
"It's a situation very specific to the Acadian Peninsula. The market is not favourable but at least in other places, growers can sell their berries," said Jean-Maurice Landry, chairman of a blueberry producers association in the northeast.
"However here, Jasper Wyman is indicating they're not buying because of a technical problem. Mr. Bragg from Oxford is not buying as normal due to some technical problems as well."
Jasper Wyman is buying from a single producer in Lameque.
At the season's halfway mark, some growers have harvested only 20 per cent of their fields.
"There is a grower nearby that's restricted to 10,000 pounds a week, and he has 200,000 in the field which means he'll need 20 weeks to harvest. But in two weeks time the season is over. Mathematically speaking, we know we are in trouble," said Landry.