By Ray Hudson
Surrey: Eight years of intensive work culminated in the announcement, Wednesday, of a market access agreement to supply fresh blueberries to China. International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced the deal saying it could be worth up to $65 million per year. Chinese inspectors will be visiting B.C. this summer to carry out pre-inspections before the first shipments occur.
“The announcement means about $300 million farm gate value, and that’s just to the growers, not the economic drivers. said Debbie Etsell, the Executive Director of the Blueberry Council of BC.
She said it means that an enormous population, which has been demanding BC Product for some time, will now be accessible to the growers who will be shipping product to China. In terms of increases, Etsell said that in 2013, they had an increase of 121 million pounds and in 2014 they had 152 million pounds of blueberries, there’s been quite an increase over the last few years.
“This year’s crop is very early,” said Etsell. “We started picking last week, and we’re four weeks ahead of two years ago, and two weeks ahead of last year. We’ve had a really mild winter and a very warm and dry spring so the quality of the berries is very good, but it’s going to be interesting to see how long we will have blueberries this year. Time will tell”
Etsell said the Blueberry crop is a huge economic driver in BC, one of the top agrifoods exports out of the province and the number one exported fruit out of Canada.
According to the provincial ministry of Agriculture, BC produces about 95% of the Canadian production of cultivated blueberries, about 18 million kilograms per year. About 50% of these are processed; the others are bought fresh for export and local consumption through stores and farm gate outlets. In BC, about 3500 ha are farmed by over 450 farm families.
“I’ve said it before, but it’s a day of real celebration for BC Blueberry growers, and I believe, Chinese consumers, from the emails we received congratulating us,” Etsell said.