Mixed farming helps survival

Darrell
Darrell Cole
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A fifth generation farmer, David Dickinson has seen a lot of changes in agriculture over the last 40 years.

While farmers are leaving the industry faster than they can be replaced, Dickinson Bros. has diversified into several areas and it's a strategy that has worked as the company has developed a solid return in blueberries, strawberries, maple syrup and grain.

Mixed farming helps survival

A fifth generation farmer, David Dickinson has seen a lot of changes in agriculture over the last 40 years.

While farmers are leaving the industry faster than they can be replaced, Dickinson Bros. has diversified into several areas and it's a strategy that has worked as the company has developed a solid return in blueberries, strawberries, maple syrup and grain.

Dickinson's West Brook farm includes 225 acres of blueberries, 120 acres of grain, five acres of strawberries and tapped 17,000 trees. He also has a 2,000-acre woodlot.

"Mixed farming has been good for us in that it all balances out. You don't have the highs and lows others do because they all don't go up or down at once," he said, adding that the lumber is down, but the blueberry industry is booming.

Key to his success has been the blueberry.

"The blueberry industry is on a high right now as far as price goes. Our crop was a little below normal last year, but the price is good," Dickinson said, adding the health benefits of the blueberry have made it a very popular fruit. "In the last few years people have been on a health kick trying to eat healthier and research has shown that blueberries are the highest in anti-oxidants."

With a guaranteed market in Oxford Frozen Foods, Dickinson said the main challenge is harvesting his crop each August. That doesn't mean there aren't challenges, namely the weather and finding enough people to harvest the crop.

"I guess what we're doing right that others are doing wrong is we're growing blueberries," he said. "It just happens that the blueberry is a popular food right now."

It also doesn't hurt that there isn't a lot of foreign competition to Nova Scotia's low bush wild blueberries while the Wild Blueberry Association of North America has done a solid job marketing the fruit as a popular healthy food choice.

Labour is a bigger issue in the strawberry industry because the crop has to be picked by hand and doesn't rely on mechanical harvesters to the extent the blueberry industry does. Along with the labour shortage there is no processor in the area and any that can't be sold as fresh fruit has to be discarded.

Dickinson said his maple operation has continued to grow to the point the farm abandoned the beef industry in the 1960s. Since he joined the operation out of school, the maple industry has grown five to six times and there's still plenty of room to grow.

"The maple industry is up and down in production but no more than any other industry," he said. "The difference is you can go out and look at your strawberries and blueberries and see which ones are good or bad. With the maple industry you really can't tell from looking at the tree. You don't know until the season's over how good you've done."

dcole@amherstdaily.com

Organizations: Dickinson Bros., Wild Blueberry Association of North America

Geographic location: West Brook, Oxford Frozen Foods, Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • Earle
    January 18, 2010 - 11:10

    Wonderful to see the promotion of these vibrant industries in Cumb. Co. and wonderful to see my brother-in-law David Dickinson featured as one of the key producers.
    thanks.
    Earle Smith
    (ex-Southampton NS)

  • Tim
    January 18, 2010 - 10:40

    Hey, that's my dad!