Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia wild blueberries smaller due to lack of rain

With Nova Scotia's blueberry harvest season underway, farmers are gathering plentiful but small berries across the province.

Farmers are producing more berries than 5 years ago, but are seeing low prices

Blueberries are slightly smaller this summer due to a lack of rain across Nova Scotia. (Yvon Theriault/Radio Canada)

Nova Scotia's blueberry harvest season is underway, with farmers gathering plentiful but small berries across the province. 

"You need frequent rains throughout the summer months to make them swell up and be a good size. The only thing we're lacking this summer is good rains," blueberry farmer Barron Blois said Sunday. 

Conditions have been drier than usual in Nova Scotia, sparking several forest fires and complaints about dry wells

Plants show signs of drought

Farmers are seeing drought-stressed plants, the worst since early 2000s, wild blueberry specialist Peter Burgess said. Without "significant rain until last week," results vary farm to farm. 

"Some people are still getting pretty good yields coming off. Others, it's disappointing," Burgess said.

"It is farming. There's not a lot you can do about Mother Nature and rain."

Nova Scotia's blueberry industry is looking to expand into new international markets. (CBC)

More blueberries than buyers

Many are seeing smaller fruit, but "there's still good berries out there," said Blois, who's also president of the Wild Blueberry Producers Associations of Nova Scotia. 

In fact, Nova Scotia farmers more than doubled the amount of berries grown between 2011 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada industry data. 

But the same data shows producers only made around 65 per cent more, due to low prices.

The giant blueberry is an Oxford, N.S, icon, as the town relies heavily on Oxford Frozen Food's taxes. (CBC)

Price dropped

The price per pound dropped due to the amount of berries on the global market, especially with high bush blueberries grown outside of Canada, Blois said. 

"All that puts more berries into the storage and more berries that have to be moved in a market that already has got a lot of blueberries out there," he said.

"All this works back to the producer and puts more pressure on the price that producers are getting."

This year, producers are hoping to get close to last year's price of 50 cents per pound, he said. But three years ago, the price was 60 cents per pound for berries heading to the production plant.

New markets, old fields

The industry is now looking to find new markets, turning to China in particular, and assessing field quality, Blois said.

The industry may need to look at setting low-yield fields aside, until they, or prices, improve, he said.

The federal and provincial governments gave $1.08-million to support a lowbush blueberry development program last summer, aimed at improving fields. 

The results from that won't show for a few years, Blois said.

Ways to improve the Nova Scotia industry will be main topics of debate at this fall's blueberry producers association's annual general meeting, he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with The Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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