British Columbia raspberry growers say high costs of labour, land and supplies have made it difficult for local farmers to compete with cheaper imports of the berry from countries like Mexico, Chile and Serbia. James Bergen, chair of the Raspberry Industry Development Council, says many farmers are turning to other crops instead.
"The B.C. industry is in a significant decline," he says. B.C. raspberry production was at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when 42 million pounds per year were picked. But production has dropped dramatically, falling to less than 17 million pounds last year.
The number of growers has declined too — from 500 at the raspberry industry's peak to just 90 now.
One example is Peter Thind, who has been growing raspberries in Abbotsford since 1974. Thind used to have 140 acres of raspberries on his Abbotsford, B.C., farm. He's scaled back to 20 acres, ripping out the crop to plant blueberries instead. "It's not profitable anymore," he says. "Raspberry wasn't paying us to pay the mortgage."
Abbotsford is known as the "Raspberry Capital of Canada," but the shifting global market could put that title in jeopardy, too.
Hope in new varieties
This year, farmers have been hit with a double whammy ahead of raspberry season, which in B.C. usually runs mid-June through September. Not only are they facing challenges from the global market, but the cold snap in mid-February has damaged raspberry crops. Farmers are also dealing with winter damage following the cold snap in the middle of February. The extent of the damage won't be known for another few weeks.