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.

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

On Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, the Township approved a rainbow crosswalk between the school district and RCMP buildings in Murrayville, but did not earmark funds for the project. (Langley Advance Times file)
Out On Patrol police group backs rainbow crosswalk in Langley

Urges supporters to donate to cover cost of $12,000 crossing near main RCMP detachment

Chris Wejr, principal of Aldergrove’s Shortreed Elementary, made U.S. senator Bernie Sanders a playground monitor (Twitter image)
Another Bernie Sanders meme, this time in Langley

Principal adds image of mitten-wearing U.S. senator to playground photo

Langley City hall (City of Langley image)
Langley City financial plan scales back SkyTrain preparations

If approved, the average homeowner taxes would go up by $154

Giants defenceman Bowen Byram has recorded his first NHL career point (Rob Wilton/special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Vancouver Giants Bowen Byram records first NHL career point with Colorado Avalanche

Player with Langley-based WHL franchise assisted on goal against the Ducks

Surrey Fire Service responded to a fire in the industrial area of 192nd street and 54th Avenue early Saturday morning (Jan. 23, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey crews respond to fire in industrial area

Fire happened early Saturday morning

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

sd
VIDEO: Mission drag racer scores 1st career win, sets world record, makes history in 2020

Justin Bond, founder and owner of JBS Equipment Mission, has break-out year

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Most Read