Wild blueberry farmers earn record low prices
The end of New Brunswick's wild blueberry season is leaving farmers picking their fruit for the lowest prices they have ever seen and searching for a return to profitability.
Blueberry farmers are harvesting the last of their crop this week. For producers such as David Hatt, who owns Granite Towns Farms, the season has been a financial disaster.
Half of Hatt's blueberry crop goes to wholesale processing plants where the St. George farmer said he's getting 35 cents a pound.
He said that is the lowest price he's ever fetched for his fruit and it's well below the 55 cents he said he needs to break even.
With the sagging market, Hatt said he's not sure what he can do to balance his books this year.
"We're trimming now," he said.
"We've been trimming since last year, [when] we had a 60-cent pound price. [I] never dreamt it would go to the price point it's at now."
Blueberry prices have been wildly fluctuating for years.
Two years ago, they hit a high of $1.10 a pound.
Looking for new markets
Jamie Morrison, a spokesman for the New Brunswick Blueberry Association, said the supply and demand of the product are partly to blame for plummeting prices.
He said the province's wild crop is getting stiff competition from large, cultivated blueberries grown all over the world.
The cultivated berries are flooding the market and driving prices down at a time when farmers are being hit hard by other factors, including the flagging economy.
Morrison said they're focusing on promotion as one solution to the drop in prices.
"We spend a lot of money internationally in the big markets, being Japan and Germany and England, trying to get more consumption of berries," he said.
Morrison said farmers need prices to stabilize at about 75 cents a pound to make a living.
In 2007, the Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture reported there were 8,900 hectares of land producing wild blueberries in the province. That was third largest amount of land set aside for crops behind potatoes and barley.