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Varieties:The time is ripe for change


JUDIE STEEVES


Abbotsford grower Sukh Kahlon believes there is a pressing need for raspberries that are firmer, with a longer shelf life. By Judie Steeves


T


here are advantages and disadvantages to growing multi-pick berries. While the labour costs are much lower, your whole season’s success or failure depends on that single harvest, so weather and timing are critical. If you pick 70 per cent of your crop in one pick, as is frequently the case when harvesting blueberries mechanically, it’s very stressful because it all depends on that pick, explains Sukh Kahlon, who grows raspberries, blueberries and strawberries on the 300-acre Abbotsford farm owned by himself, brother Gordie and their families.


However, when you pick 12 times, as is required sometimes when machine-picking raspberries, you may have poor weather or fruit for one of those, but you’re also more likely to have good fruit for most of the picks and less likely to have a poor crop overall.


Raspberry growers are survivors, he believes. “They’re hard-working, meticulous and you can’t keep them down. They just need the occasional good year to keep growing.” From winter and spring’s work tying down the young canes to the repeated picks required throughout the harvest season, then the labour to remove the old canes each year—growing raspberries is never-ending work.


Add to that the depressed prices in recent years and the fact


that most B.C. raspberries are grown for processing—a market that’s the destination for the byproduct of growing fresh raspberries in most growing regions—and you have the makings of an industry that’s ready for a change. Kahlon believes the change needed is new varieties that are firmer, with longer shelf life, like those imported from regions such as California.


While B.C. berries have unmatched flavour, the U.S. industry has focused on looks. It has developed raspberry varieties that stand up well to travel and have a long shelf life. “If you can’t get the consumer to taste your fruit because they’re put off by the looks of your berries, they will never know how good they taste,” Kahlon says ruefully. As a result of the newer varieties produced in the U.S., the standards for the fresh market have changed, he explains. Many are proprietary varieties of berries such as Driscoll’s. They breed berries for firmness to assure a longer shelf life. Retailers are becoming more used to these imported varieties that are hardier, he commented.


Although work is underway to develop such varieties for use here, Kahlon comments, “I don’t know if our industry can wait long enough.”


On top of everything else, the cost of labour and land in B.C. are so much higher than in other growing regions, it makes competing even more difficult. The playing field on global markets just isn’t level.


For instance, in Chile and Yugoslavia, labour is much cheaper. Our land costs are another handicap for B.C. growers competing on world markets because land is not nearly so expensive in most other regions. “We’re high-cost producers of a low-market product,” he commented, adding, “We should be shooting for the fresh and IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) market where prices are


British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2012 7


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