Producers faced with unprecedented pressures

Sherry Martell
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TRURO - The wild blueberry industry is facing some unprecedented pressures and some producers are concerned there may be little improvement during the next two years.
Terry Prescott has been harvesting wild blueberries in Bass River for at least 20 years and said the industry has experienced volatile price points in the past but people are struggling to stay in business.
"This is a cycle really," he said. "It has its highs and lows we just hadn't seen the price that high before."
In 2007, farmers received about $1.05 per pound for their harvest, the following year it dropped to about 65 cents and this year they have received only 35 cents.
Parsborro-based wild blueberry producer Charles Davidson said he has shifted from sending his crop for processing to seeking markets to sell fresh to increase his bottom line.
"What happened to the industry is we lost a market share because we had high prices for a couple of years," said Davidson.
Industry sources show elevated prices reduced the demand for frozen wild blueberries, encouraging substitution of other fruits as baking ingredients. It also deterred companies from using wild blueberries in new product development groups.
The Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia held its annual meeting in Truro on Friday, and will continue today.
Mark Austin, a wild blueberry grower with fields in Collingwood, said he is shocked the meeting agenda did not include a session to give industry participants a chance to talk about the challenges they are facing.
"We're in a crisis right now," said Austin. "We have to talk about survival strategies for small producers.
"People are losing their land because of debt."
Dr. David Yarborough, of the University of Maine, was a guest speaker at the meeting Friday morning, discussing the increased supply of blueberries from around the globe.
"There are places growing blueberries now that had never seen blueberries before," said Yarborough.
Nearly 70 per cent of the world's blueberries are produced in Maine and Canada but areas such as South America are increasing production, up by about 20 per cent in the past decade.
The global economic downturn, the loss of market share and drop in prices, carry over inventory and foreign currency exchange are also affecting growers.

smartell@trurodaily.com

Organizations: Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia, University of Maine

Geographic location: TRURO, Bass River, Collingwood Maine Canada South America

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