2019 saw a record blueberry crop of 200 million pounds. The BC Blueberry Council expects yields to be down “significantly” this year. Maple Ridge News file photo.

Fraser Valley blueberry growers struggle with ‘tremendous’ labour shortages, bad weather

BC Blueberry Council calls for federal government to remove the $1,000-limit cap on CERB program

Fraser Valley blueberry growers, suffering from poor summer-weather conditions and “tremendous” labour shortages, have a bleak outlook for this year’s harvest.

Crop volumes are expected to be “significantly” down from 2019’s 200-million-pound yield due to cold and wet weather affecting crop development, according to the BC Blueberry Council.

The council says weather issues are hurting the plant-pollination process and fields have been flooded by seepage along the Fraser River due to excessive rain.

“Yields are definitely down, but it is hard to say by how much at this point. I am also concerned there could be issues with the quality of the fruit from the excessive rainfall,” said Jason Smith of Fraser Berry Farms. “It’s a tough season following a tough year.”

While picking machines are temporarily challenged by wet fields, the market for fresh berries (which are only picked by hand) are being heavily impacted by the labour shortages.

The council says this shortage is huge, with a workforce down 50 per cent for hand pickers on the 25,000 acres of blueberry farmland in production in B.C.

“In all my years I have never seen a year like this. To have bad weather plus this labour shortage and COVID is not something we have ever had to face,” said Parm Bains, president of Westberry Farms.

“With people not wanting to work because of CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit) or concerns about the virus, plus fewer seasonal agriculture workers, the industry is really struggling.”

Many of the council’s 600 growers are citing the federal government’s $1,000 limit-cap in the CERB program as the problem.

The BC Berry Council is recommending the government remove the cap “to provide and incentive for people to come out and help with berry picking.”

“[Workers] get a benefit of $2,000 a month, you can earn up to $1,000 more before the clawback. What we’re saying is, [the government] is going to pay people anyways,” said Anju Gill, executive director of the BC Blueberry Council. “Someone can pick blueberries and make more than that, but they’re not for fear their benefits will be clawed back if they earn.”

The province’s entire blueberry industry employs around 10,000 people, of which around 25 per cent come under the Seasonal Agricultural Program, according to Gill.

“What we are seeing is that overall, even our traditional domestic labour force we’re falling short on,” Gill said.

In 2019, the blueberry season started in June because of good weather. This year, it started in the first week of July – typically the month with the biggest yields, according to Gill.

“The [yield] number – anecdotally that I’m hearing – is atleast 25 per cent down,” she said. “But it is still early in the season. We should have a better idea in the next couple of weeks.”

RELATED: $2.9 million judgment in B.C. blueberry farm sabotage lawsuit

FarmingFraser Valley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Speed carving event on Friday and Saturday in Memorial Park

Organizers are keeping event small, physically distanced and stocked with sanitizer

Mission man who nearly died from COVID-19 at Abbotsford hospital reflects on one-month battle

Robert Billyard was in an induced coma to ensure his body would not fight the ventilator to breathe

Lavender hand sanitizer sale raises cash for Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation

Golf course and lavender farm partner up to support health care in the Fraser Valley

UBC soccer star Victory Shumbusho offers one-on-one training for Chilliwack players

The Chilliwack FC grad believes players need more training to reach higher levels of soccer

Wings and Wheels fundraiser ready to roll in Abbotsford this weekend

Unique collection of cars invading Tradex for drive-thru experiences on Saturday and Sunday

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Watchdog clears Okanagan RCMP in death of man after arrest over alleged stolen pizzas

The man died in hospital after having difficulty breathing and broken ribs

35,000 doses of fentanyl part of huge Maple Ridge bust

Largest seizure in RCMP detachment’s history included submachine gun, body armour

Have you seen Berleen? B.C. pig destined for sanctuary goes missing

Berleen was less than two weeks from travelling to Manitoba when she vanished

Health Canada says several kids hospitalized after eating edible pot products

People warned not to store cannabis products where children can find them

‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

Police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna’s staff

Michigan plans dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles

First study of its kind in the U.S. to figure out whether existing lanes or shoulders could be used

Most Read