New Brunswick

Blueberry growers appeal for provincial help

New Brunswick blueberry growers say they need marketing support to level the playing field with the higher prices earned by their competitors in Quebec.

Association says Quebec producers earn higher prices

Blueberry producers are seeking financial assistance from the provincial government.

New Brunswick blueberry growers say they need provincial assistance to level the playing field with the higher prices earned by their competitors in Quebec.

Some blueberry producers met with Agriculture Minister Mike Olscamp in Tracadie-Sheila on Tuesday to discuss the significant price differences between what Quebec and New Brunswick producers get from processors.

Jean-Maurice Landry, a spokesperson for the Northeast Wild Blueberry Growers Association, said New Brunswick blueberry growers received 80 cents a pound for their crops last year compared to their Quebec counterparts who earned close to $1 a pound.

"Close to 20 cents difference between Quebec and New Brunswick — 13 million pounds at 20 cents a pound, we're talking, you know, $2.5 million that the local producers here in the Acadian Peninsula and the rural communities haven't received for their berries," he said.

Landry said producers have been offered a base price of 60 cents a pound this year but he said that is close to the break-even point for many farmers.

He said industry representatives are hoping for more.

Landry said Quebec growers are paid more for their crop because they have a better marketing system. So the growers’ association official said he’d like to see New Brunswick come up with a similar program to help the industry.

"We want the province to look at what's going on in other jurisdictions — notably Quebec — and put in place a system by which the farm product commission plays a more proactive role on the market," he said.

Olscamp was not available for comment.

This isn’t the first complaint over product prices that Olscamp has been forced to field this summer.

Lobster fishermen were protesting outside of processing plants in southeastern New Brunswick for nearly two weeks because those facilities were buying American lobster at extremely low prices.

The New Brunswick fishermen were hoping for higher prices for their lobster.

‘We’re losing a lot of farmers’

Landry said he was optimistic this year's prices would come out higher than last year.

But if prices continue to lag behind other jurisdictions, Landry said the industry will look very different.

He said growers cannot afford to continue receiving lower prices for their blueberries.

"We're losing a lot of farmers because you can't operate a farm and take the losses like in 2009 when we were only paid 35 cents," he said.

"This last year was an exceptional year on the market - for the 2011 crop - and getting such a low return for our berries as opposed to what Quebec got is very, very disappointing."