The Valley blueberry crop could set records this year.

The Valley blueberry crop could set records this year.

Blueberries could flourish despite shortage of bees

Officials with the BC Blueberry Council, located in Abbotsford, are optimistic that 2013 could turn out to be a record year.

This year’s blueberry crop is expected to thrive, despite a shortage of bees required for pollination.

Officials with the BC Blueberry Council, located in Abbotsford, are optimistic that 2013 could turn out to be a record year.

Debbie Etsell, executive director of the council, said it’s still too early to tell because the berries have just finished blooming and are in green berry stage.

However, the pollination process is now over and only  “time will tell” how much berries might be impacted.

“We do have a shortage of bees,” said Etsell. “But we know it’s not a crisis. The crop is still going to be a good crop this year.”

She said there is plenty of acreage in the Fraser Valley with blueberries and while there may be a shortage on some of the parcels, not all of them will suffer.

“Some of them (farmers) choose not to put bees in because of the cost and it’s getting challenging for our farmers to make ends meet.”

Many farmers rent bees from local beekeepers to ensure a better harvest, while others rely on nature.

Bees are needed to pollinate the flowers, which provides a higher quality berry.

“When a bee has visited an acreage, the berries are all consistently the same size and grow at the same rate,” she explained.

Etsell said early indications look like it will be a good season, adding there is “definitely going to be an adequate supply” of B.C. blueberries.

“We are erring on the side that we could have less, but with so much acreage going in – every year we are increasing – we will have at least what we had last year.”

Last year, B.C. farmers produced 120 million pounds of blueberries – a record amount which was worth approximately $180 million.

This year, with more than 800 growers and 25,000 acres of blueberries, Etsell said the record could be surpassed.

John Gibeau, president of the Honeybee Centre in Surrey, attributes this year’s shortage of bees to three reasons. Firstly, current customers are ordering more bees than expected, while new growers are entering the market for the first time.

And Gibeau said the unseasonably warm weather has had growers asking for more bees, which are notoriously productive in warm weather.

The third reason is three large Alberta-based beekeepers that usually supply the Lower Mainland did not come this year, nor give notice to growers.

– with files from Adrian MacNair

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