A worrying summer for Côte-Nord blueberries

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A worrying summer for blueberries on the North Shore

North Shore blueberry growers have to deal with rainy weather this year, while it was drought last summer (archives).

“You have to try to be positive”. The president of the Association of Blueberry Producers of the North Shore, Daniel Harvey, wants to be encouraging, but by his own admission the summer will be difficult for blueberry producers.

A combination of catastrophic weather and a precarious economic situation is giving some farmers a glimpse of one of the worst years in a long time.

The cool weather, the rain, the disappearance of the bees, the increase in the cost of fuels, that of fertilizers, the drought of last year. It's a perfect storm that breaks out in the blueberry field. We are sailing in there, assures Mr. Harvey, president of the Association of Blueberry Producers of the North Shore.

Blueberry bushes are currently caught between two conflicting natural forces, a year apart, according to Mr. Harvey. In the summer of 2021, the drought seriously affected the development of the plants. This year, on the contrary, rain and bad weather will hamper the work of pollinating insects.

Blueberries are grown on a two-year cycle. Last year, the plants whose berries will be picked this summer were therefore in vegetation, that is to say that the producers were busy making them grow. However, the drought has severely limited their growth, explains David Harvey. Water, he points out, is not only necessary as such for the growth of blueberries, but also for the dissolution and absorption of fertilizers.

As it is very cold in the spring on the North Shore, the bees are not at their maximum activity when blueberries are at their peak of bloom.

The plants were therefore already frail last June when the time for pollination arrived, according to the president of the Association of Blueberry Producers of the North Shore. Pollination is carried out by native insects and farmed bees. Here again, nature plays spoilsport with the blueberry season.

Added to the worrying mortality of bees is the fact that the cold and rainy weather this summer is an obstacle to their pollination work. Worse still, excessive moisture appears to have caused fungal diseases in some plantings, according to David Harvey.

Result: such a bad year hasn't been seen in a very long time for some producers.

Raymond Laurencelle, 85, still has both feet in his Escoumins blueberry field. It was I who started that, the blueberry, on the North Shore! he boasts. In 1996, after traveling to New Brunswick, Maine and Lac-Saint-Jean to acquire blueberry know-how, he bought 2,000 acres of wooded land to turn it into a blueberry farm. We used all that, he says, to create Bleuets des rivières, a business he has since sold.

He does not hide it, this year will be anemic for his son Bobby and him, who together maintain some 300 acres. The beekeeper he usually does business with couldn't provide him with any of the 150 hives he depends on year after year. Mr. Laurencelle therefore had to turn to other insects, much fewer horseflies, much less effective.

Having bees, they could have done this to us in two or three days, he laments.

At the end of the day, Mr. Laurencelle expects to harvest only 1,500 pounds of blueberries per acre, compared to 4,000 to 5,000 a year ago. 2 years old.

While nature is exceptionally harsh this season, the market is structurally uncertain for blueberry producers. We are never certain of the final price of our products, explains David Harvey.

The final sale price is actually set one year after the start of the season, once the buyers have sold out their stocks. Either way, the harbingers aren't good for fruit this harvest: the starting price for blueberries is 60% lower than last year, Harvey says.

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It's a little disappointing, but apparently the market should stabilize, he hopes. Until then, producers must deal with rising fuel and transport prices, which have doubled, and fertilizer prices, up 60%.

Raymond Laurencelle, who has seen others in several decades doing this job, is not too offended by a bad season. There will be ups and downs, he notes. Words that echo those of Mr. Harvey, according to whom producers are accustomed to living with the vagaries of nature.

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