|Matthew Gibson of Hawkes Blueberries prepares blueberries for shipping at the company's Fort Lawrence receiving station. With prices nearly a third of where they were two years ago, some producers are fearing the future of the industry in Cumberland County. Darrell Cole - Amherst Daily News|
AMHERST - Blueberry producers across Cumberland County feel their industry may implode if prices don't soon increase.
With the blueberry season drawing near its conclusion, farmers say they are paying more to produce the berries than they are worth on the market.
"It's way below the cost of production," said Ralph Thompson, who has about 100 acres of blueberries in production near Conns Mills. "We've had down years before, but this is a disaster."
It costs farmers like Thompson about 70 cents to produce a pound of blueberries, but he's only getting 35 cents for that pound. Two years ago, producers were receiving $1.05 per pound.
He believes the low price being given to producers is going to impact the local economy.
"It's going to have quite an impact in Cumberland County," he said. "We've had prices like this before and we have had a lot of challenges, but right now it's just not worth it."
Thompson figures a lot of smaller producers will walk away from their fields if prices don't increase soon.
The situation is so bad that he has about 30 acres that he's not going to harvest because it will cost more to do so than what he'd get for selling it.
"If the crop is not half decent you can't afford the time to pick it," he said, adding it's troubling that the retail price of blueberries is just as high as it was two years ago.
Thompson said the issue lies in the fact there is so much integration among the blueberry buyers and there's no legislation to control this, while he's concerned about the lack of a grower-oriented organization the represents the interests of the independent grower.
"We have a growers association but they don't give us enough information," Thompson said. "In a year like this we should have had an indication earlier in the season. We had directors telling us they didn't know what the price was going to be a couple of days before the season. Someone had to know."
Steve Gibson of Hawkes Blueberries understands the frustration of producers and like them he has been given no explanation as to why the price is so low.
"There's all kinds of speculation. They say we have too many berries, but there are conflicting stories. They say the world economy is bad, but then they say it's not affecting the markets," Gibson said, agreeing it's going impact the economy locally.
"People don't realize the spinoffs of the blueberry industry locally," Gibson said. "There's a lot of money poured into stores directly from blueberry producers and the way it is now they're not going to have the money to spend.'
Gibson said $1.05 a pound is at the high end of the scale, but he agrees 35 cents is at the very low end.
John Bragg, the president of Oxford Frozen Foods, said there is no easy answer to why prices are the way they are.
"It's very complicated with many, many factors," said Bragg, who owns the largest processor of wild blueberries in North America. "There are a thousand factors that go into the mix, but it all comes down to supply and demand."
The last year or so have been good ones for blueberry crops with some producers harvesting as much as 50 per cent more blueberries. Production in some areas appears to be up again this year, but consumption is not.
Facts about blueberries
- Nova Scotia's provincial production is over forty million pounds.
- The wild blueberry is the number 1 fruit crop in acreage export sales, and value.
- Oxford is the wild blueberry capital of Canada.
- Wild blueberries are high in antioxidants which have many health benefits including anti-aging effects, cancer inhibiting properties, heart health, urinary tract health, vision health.
- Nova Scotia wild blueberries are exported to the United States, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom and other countries.
- Harvesting of wild blueberries begins in August and continues until late September.
(Source: Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia)