Blueberry blues: bumper crops hurt Nova Scotia industry

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Blueberry blues: bumper crops hurt Nova Scotia industry

The wild blueberry industry in Nova Scotia is proving that you can have too much of a good thing.

Three good growing seasons have flooded the market with product and forced prices down, according to the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia. 

Peter Rideout, the association's executive director, said in 2013 growers were getting about 60 cents per pound of blueberries. 

As blueberry production rose in 2014, prices started to drop. Last year, grower prices were down to 30 cents per pound. It costs about 20 cents per pound to harvest blueberries. 

"Margins are very tight, we're very concerned about the viability of these smaller operations," he said. "A lot of our rural industries depend on the wild blueberry industry."

Rideout is worried smaller landowners who grow blueberries may have to sell their fields because of low prices, while others may only cultivate part of their land.

"There's a lot of trickle down effect when you have a downturn like this throughout the communities at large," he said.  

Three years of 'exceptional growing conditions'

Over the last three years, Nova Scotia has produced around 60 million pounds of blueberries, said Rideout. Before that the province only grew about 40 million pounds a year.        

"In this case we had exceptional growing conditions throughout this region for all three of those years so things really lined up on the production side," he said. 

Farmers have also carefully managed their crops to deal with fungal diseases that cause blossom blight, which hasn't been a problem for a few years now, said Rideout.     

Production increase in other areas

Other areas in the Maritimes, Quebec and the state of Maine, have also seen their production increase because of favourable weather. When added together with Nova Scotia, those areas produced more than 400 million pounds of blueberries. 

Supply has now outstripped demand and many blueberries are left sitting in grocery store freezers. Rideout has a plan though. He wants to grow the blueberry market in other countries. Growers in Nova Scotia already export blueberries to 30 countries.

"We're working very hard to bring new markets on stream. It takes time, it takes a long time to go to a foreign country and build new business relationships and to develop a business that can start shipping."