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Competition heating up


Sharpermarketing edge will be needed as world production of blues continues to rise. By Judie Steeves


B


lueberry growers in British Columbia had better be warned: production of the versatile, healthy fruit is on the rise in many other countries in the world. That was just one of the messages Debbie Etsell brought back from the first meeting of a new International Blueberry Organization in April. Etsell was confirmed this spring as executive-director of the B.C. Blueberry Council and attended the inaugural IBO meeting in Orlando, Florida, along with BCBC chairman Mike Makara. Other charter members include the Argentinian Blueberry Committee, Australian Blueberry Growers Association, Blueberry New Zealand Association, Chilean Blueberry Committee, Eurafruit-South Africa, North American Blueberry Council, UPROA Uruguay, and Winterwood Farms of the United Kingdom. All major producing areas of the world were represented, with the U.S., Canada and Chile the largest highbush producers.


JUDIE STEEVES


Etsell said there were presentations from each of the members and those showed that production is increasing in other parts of the world, but not in B.C., which probably also has the highest cost of production and sits on the most expensive land base of any member of the group.


She noted that forecasts from each country showed that Chile, for instance, had predicted that its production would grow by 50 million pounds last year, but in fact, it grew by 70 million pounds, for a total of 132 million pounds.


By comparison, Canada’s production is about 90 million pounds. Luckily, Chile’s season is opposite to Canada’s, so it isn’t in head-to-head competition with such a rapidly- growing industry.


Also, much of the crop goes to processing, she added.


8 British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2011


blueberries as well as providing a united voice in an international forum.


The next meeting will be held in San Francisco in April of next year.


Etsell admits she grew up in the big city of Vancouver, but quickly became a farmer when she met her husband, Garnet Etsell, whose family were blueberry growers in Richmond. She found most of their dates were in the blueberry fields and her weekends were often spent at the family home helping out on the farm.


JUDIE STEEVES


Debbie Etsell, executive director of the B.C. Blueberry Council, attended April’s inaugural meeting of the International Blueberry Organization.


However, Etsell warned that a lot of Chilean money is spent on marketing, which could have some spin-off benefits to blueberry industries elsewhere in the world, but which dwarfs the amount spent on research and promotion here.


With an oversupply of blueberries on global markets, it’s important that good marketing be used to create expanded markets for the fruit, she commented. The focus of the new international group will be on a better understanding of issues that are of common interest and worldwide acceptance of


He is now chairman of the B.C. Agriculture Council and a director on the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in addition to other posts. He and the family have a 67-acre farm where they raise turkeys. Both their sons work in agriculture and the family are currently planting grape vines on their property in addition to the


turkey operation.


Etsell has been working with the blueberry council for the past year, and this spring is completing a re-branding, with promotional materials focussed on B.C. blueberries as Nature’s Candy: a sweet berry that’s healthy and grown in the natural beauty of B.C.


“Not many areas of the world can advertise such a beautiful growing area,” she commented.


B.C. blueberries already have a good name on world markets, she said, and the new materials refresh that message.


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