(Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS) Sunny hot weather can make the berries over-ripen.

Lower Mainland blueberry farms expect solid season

Blueberry Council of B.C. says season will be better than last year

Blueberries are better late than never.

Austin Doong, with Doremi Blueberry Farm in Pitt Meadows, said the season got started a bit later than expected for his mid-season crops, but he expects the recent sunny weather will make the berries ripen sooner.

Overall, the crop in B.C. is expected to surpass last year’s total.

For Doong, this is his first year of harvesting the 12 acres of blueberry bushes on his farm.

He had little trouble finding workers. He has around eight regular pickers at his farm, plus around 10 students hired through the Canada Summer Job Program.

When he advertised online for help, he had a few hundred applications.

“For pickers, it’s just you put it on there and people just swarm,” said Doong.

“Then student-wise, there are another few hundred, so it’s not too bad to find people,” he continued, adding that maybe he had so much interest because they are paying pickers a little bit higher than at other farms.

“Apparently our pruning did not go well, so [the berries are] a little bit harder to pick, so we put the money a little bit higher,” Doong added.

He has reserved around two to three acres of his fields for ‘u-pick’ and around another two to three acres that his own workers pick and sell fresh. The other eight acres are intermittently cleared by pickers supplied by a packing house.

“As a grower, the packing houses have their own processing plants, so they help us out by sending in a few hundred people to pick and clean our fields,” said Doong.

“Then they bring it back and record how much weight has come out of our field and it’s just like if I sold it to them myself,” he said.

Navdeep Middar, sales and operations manager at Twinberry NRK Sahota Blueberry Farms, also in Pitt Meadows, said her workers started picking at the end of June, about a week earlier than last year.

She said that although they are having a bit of a struggle with the hot weather, the crop is good.

“If it’s too hot, the berry over-ripens or softens, so there are more berries on the trees. Which is not a bad thing if you can pick it. But then the rain comes and then that slows down the people’s picking,” said Middar

“The season is more of a bumper crop than last year for sure,” she added.

NRK Sahota Blueberry Farms has been in Pitt Meadows for 33 years with 168 acres of mostly blueberries and a small amount of raspberries.

She sells five variety of berries, the most common being ‘Duke,’ the sweetest of the early season crop, ‘Bluecrop’ in the mid-season and ‘Elliott,’ the late-season crop that the farm grows more to export than for local markets because the berries are more tart.

Middar said that every year the farm struggles with finding workers and usually hires contractors to harvest the fields.

Across the province, the season is looking better than last year.

But Anju Gill, executive director of the Blueberry Council of B.C., won’t know for certain until about October, when the numbers are finalized.

“Last year, the crop size was down about 30 million pounds,” said Gill.

The total for the year was about the 135 million pounds.

The biggest year for the industry was in 2016, with a crop total of 170 million pounds.

“Our numbers are based on levies received. That doesn’t meant there isn’t more crop out there,” explained Gill.

“Let’s say you’re doing u-pick and other ways of selling your berries, we’re not going to know about that,” she explained.

“It looks better this year than last year for sure,” Gill added.

“Definitely not the 2016 season.”

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