British Columbia blueberry growers, packers and shippers see some new opportunities in the fresh market for the 2023 season. “We anticipate fresh market pricing in the peak season to be more competitive than what it has been the past two years,” says Rhonda Driediger of Langley, B.C.-based Blueridge Produce and Driediger Farms.
This is thanks in part due to a challenging processing market right now. “The last couple of years during COVID, the market was really unsettled. There were a series of price increases and there was good movement but we knew it would correct one day. We just didn’t think it would correct so quickly and so drastically,” she says.
Collection of costs
Also factoring into that were increased production costs, higher logistics fees, logistic snafus whether it was washed out roads due to flooding or port issues and even Peru ramping up its blueberry production dramatically, though Driediger believes British Columbia is still in a competitive environment. “The excess costs got attributed to the product that we shipped out over a year ago and that’s still being used up,” she says. “They need to work through that inventory that had high pricing before they can start bringing in lower priced products.”
Driediger has a pragmatic and optimistic view of this. “It’s not going to be a great year price wise and that’s okay. I just think we need 18 months to work it out,” she says. “We need to slow down the amount that goes into process to create a bit more demand. If we can get an earlier start and a longer season, we’ll do really well in fresh and that should take some pressure off of the process pricing.”
So with that extra focus on the fresh market, Driediger says there is strong retailer support from U.S. retailers but particularly Canadian retailers who are happily welcoming opportunities to promote a popular product such as blueberries with consistent, good supply.
This week, the grower-shipper is starting into its harvesting of field strawberries, a smaller part of Driediger Farms’ overall production. “Our first and second-year fields look really good. It was cold and then it just changed overnight and now we have summer,” she says, noting normally, it’s into packing berries already when summer temperatures hit. “It’s really unusual for us so we’re getting a lot of field work done.”
The raspberry crop, which last year was lost due to late frost, is back with two years of growing behind them and Driediger says the plants look impressive. They are at the end of their blossom right now while its small blackberry acreage is in blossom.
As for blueberries, they’re also in blossom and the two-year-old plants have good size says Driediger. “We have some Blue Crop and Duke fields which are 60 percent done,” she says. “It looks like they may come in with a bit of an overlap but it won’t be a problem. After having such a late season last year and then the high heat, 2022 was a really frustrating year.”