by Dennis Page
Despite the deluge of wet weather that ushered in the Lower Mainland’s summer, local blueberry farmers are bracing for another strong crop of the blue super fruit, which will start showing up at farmer’s markets and grocery stores this weekend.
The cool, damp weather through spring and early summer delayed the harvest of this year’s blueberry crop, but farmers anticipate this season will be productive and will run as late as October. They’re also optimistic the bounty will be close to 2011’s record-setting harvest.
“Overall, this year’s crop looks really good, but the weather has brought some challenges,” said Paul Gill, owner of Surrey’s M&M Pacific Coast Farms, referring to the increased costs involved in changing to nutrients and pesticides that work well in cool, wet weather, and operating farm equipment in soaked, muddy fields.
Gill, whose family has operated the farm on 152 Street and 48 Avenue for 33 years, points out that although there is an increased cost in his production, pricing for this year’s blueberry crop will be comparable to last season, partly due to the increased demand for blueberries on the world market.
Gill expects to hire an average of 150 pickers for approximately 12 weeks and plans to start selling the freshly picked berries at his family farm this Saturday.
Increased consumer demand has been steadily rising, with B.C.’s crop bringing in more than $100 million last year, According to the B.C. Blueberry Council, blueberries are becoming more popular because of the health benefits that associated with the fruit.
Aside from having a sweet, distinctive taste, blueberries are a good source for nutrients, containing vitamins B,C and K. They are also credited for their antioxidant effect, which can reduce cell damage that can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease and loss of brain function.
Gill’s farm grows the highbush variety of blueberries which start with the Duke berries that typically ripen in July, followed by Blue Crop, the world’s most popular blueberry, available throughout late July and August. The Elliott berry becomes available in September.