Jesse Brar at Golden Eagle Farms, which  farms 1,300 acres of blueberry in Pitt Meadows.

Jesse Brar at Golden Eagle Farms, which farms 1,300 acres of blueberry in Pitt Meadows.

Federal gov’t helping build better berries

$2.8 million to develop pest-and disease-resistant varieties and improve production method

The federal government is investing millions in building a better blueberry, which is good news to growers in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge

The federal government has announced $2.8 million to help blueberry, raspberry and strawberry growers improve their product by developing pest- and disease-resistant varieties and improve production methods. The announcement was made at a Langley berry farm Thursday, Jan. 23.

Ottawa’s $2.8 million will have another $1 million added by the industry, coming from the B.C. Blueberry Council, Raspberry Industry Development Council, B.C. Cranberry Marketing Commission and the B.C. Strawberry Growers Association.

Berry exports have doubled over the past decade, rising to $211 million last year, and it is one of the fastest-growing agricultural sectors, according to the federal government.

“The blueberry market is expanding at a rapid rate. It is growing in North America, and in other countries that don’t have production,” said Jesse Brar, director of sales for Golden Eagle Blueberries of Pitt Meadows. “Production is just trying to keep up with consumption.”

Golden Eagle operates a farm that is believed to be the largest high-bush blueberry farm in Canada, at more than 1,300 acres. It is owned by the Aquilini family, which is best known as the owner of the Vancouver Canucks. The farm produced more than seven million pounds last year, when production overall in B.C. was down a bit.

The 800 blueberry producers in the province combine to produce about 106 million pounds, so the Aquilinis are a major player.

Brar said there have been price fluctuations, and at one time he believed the value of the crop was a bubble that was about to burst. But it remains a lucrative farm crop, and Golden Eagle planted more acres of blueberries last year. Once all their plants mature, production will be even greater.

“We live in one of the best blueberry-growing climates in the world,” said Brar. “We have that competitive advantage.”

He appreciates government getting behind innovation in the industry.

“It’s fantastic – any support we receive to enhance promotion and research is great.”

Brar has seen innovations in machine harvesting, irrigation management, water conservation, spraying techniques and pest management.

“On our farm, it’s precision management,” he said.

Farmers have also found the varieties that give them the best products and yields.

The federal government said it is helping Canadian farmers stay ahead of the competition.

“Key investments in innovation like this one will allow berry farmers to stay ahead of the competition and remain competitive in the global marketplace,” said parliamentary secretary Pierre Lemieux, speaking on behalf of federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.

He added the research will benefit berry growers across Canada.

The funds will go to the Lower Mainland Horticulture Improvement Association LMHIA, and the chair of that organization, David Mutz, called the financial support invaluable.

“It means our world-renowned breeding program will be able to continue to produce top quality raspberry, strawberry and blueberry cultivars [varieties] in the future, which will be good for both farmers and consumers,” Mutz said.

The provincial ministry of agriculture, B.C. Institute of Technology and University of the Fraser Value will be involved in the program as well.

– with files from Dan Ferguson, Black Press

Maple Ridge News