Highbush blueberries are ready early
Bob Kidston isn’t entirely sure why some of his family’s highbush blueberry crop is ripe a month ahead of schedule. But luckily, another mystery is dealing with that: a doubling of the number of commercial pickers showing up at Blueberry Acres in Sheffield Mills.
Kidston said that while the operation normally sees 300 people per day for commercial picking, this year has seen closer to 600 people a day. And that increases how much of the crop can be harvested.
“Three years ago our best day would have been 35,000 pounds, and last year our best was 50,000,” Kidston said. “Right now we’re averaging 50,000 to 60,000 pounds a day, and last Saturday we picked 90,000.”
He said if the extra pickers hadn’t arrived, “we would have been in trouble.”
This week and next are the peak of the harvest. U-pick operations account for about 10 per cent of the crop, while the rest is picked commercially.
He said the mild winter might have helped with the bigger crop, but “we can’t quite figure it out.
“It’s a totally different scenario. With the really cold, cold spring we were worried we were not going to get any pollination . . . but we had to have had because of the crop that we got.”
He said low-bush berries here are taking a hit because three years of bumper crops without a matching increase in demand has dropped prices for frozen berries from 65 cents a pound to an estimated 20 cents this year. But demand for fresh highbush berries in the U.S. market remains strong.
Nova Scotia is the only area in North and South America where berries are being harvested in August, meaning there’s plenty of demand.
Kidston said Argentina’s crop won’t be ready for harvesting for another two weeks, and won’t hit the market in Canada until early October.
“It doesn’t affect us until the final week of picking because the price will drop with another supply coming on,” he said. “All the buyers use that to their advantage.”
Plus, crop troubles in the U.S. may provide a market for his farm’s berries that don’t make the grade for fresh berries to be used for juice.
Georgia lost 90 million pounds this spring because of frost, the west coast had poor pollination, and the crop in Maine is low, Kidston said.
He said that may even help provide a market for Nova Scotia low-bush operations.
Having the highbush blueberries ripen earlier this year means producers can have them to market well before their competitors, in countries like Argentina.