LETTER: The risks of growing blueberries in Canada

The federal government has left its growers unprotected for over 30 years.

My family grows blueberries in Abbotsford. We love it. Being outside in the beautiful Lower Mainland, tending our fruit which I know our customers will be eating just days after picking gives me a sense of place and community.  As anyone who has bought blueberries knows, they don’t last forever, and you had better eat them quickly before they’re past their peak.

Part of running a successful business, whether it be in blueberries or televisions, is getting your product to market. Unfortunately, as is the case in any business, sometimes the buyers of your product either can’t or won’t pay for it due to bankruptcy or insolvency. If I sold TV’s, then in such a circumstance I would be able to reclaim my product, but with blueberries, due to their short shelf-life, once they’re gone they’re gone.

My family operates blueberry farms both in Canada and the US. Much about growing blueberries in each country is similar, but the way I am able to do business varies considerably north and south of the border. In the US, if a buyer can’t or won’t pay, growers have the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) trust that we can rely upon to help us get the value of our produce back. Canada has no such protection for fruit and vegetable growers. Up until October 1, 2014, Canadian growers were protected in the U.S. because of an exemption that they afforded us. However, the U.S. got tired of asking Canada for over 30 years to create a similar trust and revoked our preferential status making Canadian fruit and vegetable growers vulnerable to major financial losses north and now south of the border.

Most fruit and vegetable growers in Canada operate smaller farms, and because much of our revenue comes once our produces sells we don’t have a lot of capital on hand. If a grower wanted to go after the value of his or her produce in the U.S., he or she would have to put up a bond double the value of that produce, which could be tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Due to the debilitating cost, most growers and sellers have to just walk away. The financial impact to these growers and our industry can be debilitating. The risk every Canadian grower faces sending their produce to market is constant and real. The lack of protection in Canada is not only a risk to us, but also to our greatest trading partner, making Canada a less desirable place to do business. Furthermore, consumers are affected through higher product costs as sellers try to offset the risks.

The Canadian produce industry is asking all parties to make financial protection for fresh fruit and vegetable growers a priority in the upcoming federal election — to show the people who bring fruit and vegetables to Canadian families that protecting our businesses, and the root of the supply chain that brings produce to Canadians, is important. We’re calling on the Government of Canada to create a no cost deemed trust like PACA which will benefit Canada’s produce industry and the consumers of our fruits and vegetables.

This is the first growing season that we have been unprotected in the U.S. as well as in Canada, and as of yet I, and my fellow growers, haven’t seen the full impact. In the States I have PACA, in Canada, nothing. Canada can’t afford to do business like this, and neither can I.

Bar HayreOwner, Mirage BlueberriesAbbotsford, BC

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