Wild blueberry industry hopes new funding leads to market growth

Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell says that when it comes to potential for the province's largest agricultural export, there's still plenty of juice waiting to be squeezed.

In an effort to encourage more growth in the wild blueberry industry, Colwell has announced $650,000 for research and development projects, including improved packaging, to be used over the next three years.

The minister also announced two years of funding worth a total of $280,000 for the Wild Blueberry Solutions Challenge, which is intended to encourage the development of value-added products by Nova Scotia companies.

The move is an attempt to diversify from selling frozen berries in bulk, Colwell said Tuesday.

Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia

Although that's been quite successful for the industry, there's never really been an attempt to explore producing a fresh berry as close to year round as possible and promoting the fruit's health benefits.

"That's where the money is, in value-added products in the long term," the minister told reporters.

Nova Scotia exported $104.4 million worth of wild blueberries in 2018 and Colwell said he believes, and so does the industry, that there's room to do better.

As marketing efforts in Asia, Europe and America have been rewarded, now attention shifts to ways to get even more value from crops through products such as juices and wines, said Colwell.

Help with market research

Developments in packaging will be aimed at keeping berries fresh while also considering the environment, said Colwell. They'll also be working with major food chains to promote the berries.

Barron Blois, president of the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia, said the funding would allow the industry to capitalize on its export potential.

"We think there's some opportunity for fresh market in the export market. Some of the growers that have been doing a bit of this need some further market research and some further research in the area of packaging."

There's also the potential to improve the cleaning process to prepare the berries for consumers, he said. That was something recently tested in a pilot project at a farm in Great Village where automated laser sorters were used.