New Brunswick

New Brunswick pushes blueberry plan as industry faces price crash

The New Brunswick government has announced the province is poised to be one of the world's biggest producers of wild blueberries, but at first glance this seems unlikely, with wholesale prices as low as 30 cents per pound across the province this harvest season.

Government says province on track to become world's biggest producer of wild blueberries.

Growers say they're frustrated and discouraged by the continued low price of blueberries. (CBC)

The New Brunswick government stated on Thursday the province is poised to be one of the world's biggest producers of wild blueberries.

The statement comes at a time when the blueberry industry is struggling with a price crash, with wholesale prices as low as 30 cents a pound across the province this harvest season.

Russell Weir is the owner of McKay's Blueberries in Pennfield and represents Charlotte County in the New Brunswick Blueberry Association.

"The prices are horrible, quite frankly, they're not sustainable at all," said Weir.

"I also buy berries from a number of people in the Charlotte County area and if that price doesn't change, they're basically going to put their fields to sleep."

Crown land attracting farmers

The province cited a number of factors in its release, including the identification of the blueberry sector as one of interest in its economic plan and the handover of Crown land for blueberry growing.

Nearly 1,600 hectares of Crown land were set aside in the north for wild blueberry production and development in April.

The government has allocated land in Gloucester and Northumberland counties, which will be leased to 37 successful applicants for commercial cultivation.

Weir said it's been a rough season price-wise and he lauds the government for its efforts, including the Crown land initiative.

"There's a lot of new land that may come into production fairly soon, by that, I mean five to 10 years," he said. 

"By that time the oversupply will be better dealt with. I think it will be a really good benefit to the industry in the future, the policies they're forming today."

Turmoil in northeast

Blueberry growers took their concerns about low prices to the Saint-Isidore office of MLA Denis Landry in August 2016. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
In northeastern New Brunswick, berry farmers aren't quite as optimistic.

With the giant new blueberry processing plant not accepting new customers, many farmers have nobody to sell to.

Jean Maurice Landry represents the Northeast NB Wild Blueberry Growers' Association.

"The province has invested $40 million in that new plant, and the new plant will accommodate berries from Maine and other provinces, but won't take berries from other new buyers in the Peninsula," said Landry at a protest in August.

"The situation is made worse since Jasper Wyman, which has been buying berries here for decades, has decided to close all its buying stations in the area."

He believes that without a marketing board, smaller growers won't be able to negotiate a fair price for their berries.

"We've been paid considerably less than the producers than Maine and Quebec for their berries, similar berries, on the same world market."

Long-term planning

Agriculture Minister Rick Doucet said he understands the current issues, but the province's plan is long term.
Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Rick Doucet says the industry is poised for growth. (CBC)

"As production hits new levels, obviously prices drop for a couple years, until the markets absorb variances through the development of new markets," he said.

Also, the province's economic plan specifically targeted smaller growers, stating, "This opportunity requires a strong eco-system which includes smaller local producers being given opportunity to fully participate.

"The whole objective is that we can all work together and that's objectively where we need to go," Doucet said.

New Brunswick currently accounts for 25 per cent of Canada's wild blueberry production.