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National alliances proposed

Councils seen as worth the added cost for blueberry and raspberry producers.

By Judie Steeves R

aspberry and blueberry growers in British Columbia are working toward approval of national councils, which would require a small levy on growers for research and promotion, but which would also trigger a levy on imported fruit to go into the same pot.

Debbie Etsell, executive-director of the B.C. Blueberry Council, explains it’s important that growers look at the big picture, and don’t lose sight of the fact their contributions toward a national council would mean significant contributions from growers shipping fruit into Canada as well as from local growers.

“We need more marketing,” she states flatly. Compared to the dollars spent by countries like the U.S. and Chile on research and promotion, Canada’s budget is miniscule. There is currently no health research being done in Canada into the benefits of eating blueberries, she noted. “I realize it’s difficult for growers, seeing a new charge added to the cost of production,” she commented, but it couldn’t be a higher levy than 1/6 cent a pound, and that would trigger a significant amount on fruit coming into the country.

Already, Canadian growers are charged 1/6 cent per pound to ship fruit into the U.S., for their research and promotion programs, she noted. With increasing production of blueberries, it’s particularly important

British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2011 9

that the industry support that growth with research into the health benefits to use in promotional materials in potential new markets as well as at home.

Etsell warned that Canadian consumers are being targeted by other commodity groups, which could eat into the market share of B.C. blueberries.

Fresh from the first conference of the new International Blueberry Organization, Etsell said she wished more growers had been able to hear what was being said by growers from other countries, and the amounts of money they have available for promotion.

Instead, she said, of the $100,000 the BCBC applied for from the federal agri-marketing program, they received just over $36,000 for this year’s marketing efforts, so she isn’t sure what portion of the planned promotional program she will be able to continue with.

That compares to $4 million in both the U.S. and Chile earmarked for marketing their blueberries. “It’s frustrating,” she commented. Of Canada’s total blueberry crop, 97

per cent are grown in B.C. A vote on creation of the

national council in Canada could go before members in the coming months, perhaps at the annual general meeting of the BCBC in June, she said. After that, it would be at least

18 months before the rest of the procedure could be completed, including hearings which would be scheduled by the federal government.

At this point, she said Ontario and Nova Scotia growers seem to be on-board, along with the federal government, but she wasn’t sure of the position of

Quebec growers.

Efforts to create a national raspberry council are at a similar stage, says David Mutz, chairman of the Raspberry Industry Development Council.

At this point, he says growers in both Quebec and Ontario are onside with a council and they are the other two large producers in the country. It too would involve collection of a national levy on both domestic and imported fruit, likely a half cent a pound.

That would raise about $105,000 in B.C. on the 20 million to 22 million pounds of raspberries grown annually in B.C., but if imports also had to pay a levy, $350,000 could be raised, he noted.

That money could go into health research for generic promotion of the healthy benefits of eating raspberries, he said.

A national council would include representatives from the different producer provinces as well as importers of raspberries.

Both councils would help build a sustainable industry for the future.

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