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up front By Bryden Winsby

Finding the ‘right stuff’ is no easy task T

he past decade has seen enormous growth in the world blueberry industry, and this year’s total highbush and wild production has been estimated at a record high of more than one billion pounds, with North American production of highbush blueberries topping 500 million pounds. Many factors have contributed to this growth — increased demand, better varieties offering nearly year- round availability of fresh fruit, better quality, and positive media coverage of the latest positive health findings. However, the big unknown for every grower is how long demand will remain strong. My crystal ball is no better than yours, certainly, but I suspect the answers will lie in their ability to meet increased foreign competition through more sophisticated marketing, planting the right varieties and being strongly committed to food safety best practices.

Easier said than done, of course, because there are significant variables involved, such as whether the steps taken are large or small, by individuals or groups. There is plenty of advice out there, but which is best, and what are the financial implications?

Many commodities face similar challenges, which is why it’s interesting from our perspective to focus on what works, and what might work, from our region’s perspective and on a more personal level. This issue’s cover story deals with the approach taken by veteran Richmond strawberry grower Bill Zylmans. For the better part of a decade he has found that on-farm sales have worked best and that higher prices are not necessarily an impediment to success.

Sometimes a business can be given a jump-start almost by accident. Such has been the case for Vista D’oro Farms and Winery, where Lee Murphy’s jams and preserves are going well beyond the hobby stage. Their popularity with visitors and farmers’ markets has prompted a big boost in production, with help from an interest-free federal loan. Innovations can be large or small, with necessity often being the

4 British Columbia Berry Grower • Fall 2012

proverbial mother of invention. Delta cranberry producer Clarence DeBoer didn’t really invent anything, but he certainly

needed to find a way to avoid having his sprinkler system clobbered by

harvesting machines.

The solution lay in the placement of small concrete pads under each sprinkler. Heads and risers were installed that can be unscrewed and removed during harvest so damage from the beaters is minimized. A higher-tech form of innovation is being employed by a Burnaby company that also has snagged some government financial assistance. It is developing a type of freeze-drying that can be utilized on the farm, with either fresh or frozen fruit and produce a range of textures.

In announcing the grant, Abbotsford MP Ed Fast said the new technology is aimed at helping fruit growers increase their competitiveness, profitability and sustainability by creating new market opportunities and mitigating their on-farm energy consumption.

Let’s hope he’s right, because those things are what everyone is looking for.

And speaking of advice, we thought the time was good for a profile on someone whose name has become familiar to many growers on both sides of the 49th parallel. Tom Peerbolt’s crop management firm has been operating for two decades, providing hands-on and online consulting services to the berry industry. His Small Fruit Update is delivered to the reader's email in- box weekly from January to September and less often during the winter. It includes timely pest management information, events calendar, and other industry- related news for growers in the Pacific Northwest.

In an interview with our Judie Steeves he not only explains what he does for a living but also shares some insights into where the industry is and where it could be headed Read on...

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