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cover story Tunnel vision pays off


Protection from wet conditions helps ensure good crop of late-season Elliott blueberries. By Judie Steeves


A


cres of metal hoops, big as sheds, are a feature of some of the blueberry fields in southern


Abbotsford, operated by Mirage Blueberries and the Hayre family. Located on O Avenue, near the Aldergrove border crossing, the farm has been in the family for decades, gradually transitioning from raspberries to blueberries in the past generation, under the care of Bar Hayre and his wife Aman. He’s been growing blueberries for 15


years. His mother and father grew raspberries, but as he took over operation of the farm, he replanted to blueberries because of market conditions. The change was gradual, from 2008 to 2012. Initially, all his berries were grown in


open fields, as his aunt’s still are, on the adjacent property. And, his two earlier varieties of blueberries still are grown in the open, but the Elliotts, which aren’t harvested until late August, September, and even early October, are all now grown in polyethylene (or ‘poly’) tunnels. On the 40-acre farm, Hayre says eight


acres are now in Elliott, while the remainder is in the early-season Dukes and mid-season Bluecrops. “I diversified, and only covered the


Elliotts in 2012,” comments Hayre. It cost him $20,000 an acre to bring


in the steel hoops from China and import the design for tunnel-covered blueberry crops from California, where they are also used for raspberries. The tunnels are 20 feet wide by 12


feet high and 300 feet to 350 feet long. Compact tractors can operate under the covers. Most of the year the white poly is


rolled to the side of the metal hoops and covered in black poly that protects the white covers from sunshine’s ultraviolet light effects. About a week before picking is to


Aldergrove grower Bar Hayre says he would lose about a quarter of his crop before installing a cover system.


JUDIE STEEVES


begin, the covers are pulled over the hoops and carefully tied down with ropes. If they’re properly tied down, the wind won’t impact the covers, explains Hayre. “The design is important.” Generally, the rows of Elliotts are covered for a month or so and those covers serve several important duties. First, before he installed the tunnels,


Hayre found he lost 25 per cent of his crop of Elliotts to rain, which just never seemed to stop. “This would have paid back the cost of installation in a year,” he comments. Elliott is a late variety, making it susceptible to heavy dew, rain and other questionable weather, but Hayre explains, “There aren’t a lot of blueberries growing anywhere in the world at that time, so you can get a premium price for them.” He notes that, compared to raspberries, blueberries are a long-term investment. “They’ll grow into trees. There are some in Richmond that are 80 to 90 years old. I can’t envision ripping these out and replanting to a new variety.” New varieties often have been


developed elsewhere and haven’t been proven in the Fraser Valley, so there’s no consistency and growers need to learn how to grow them for the best crops, he comments. “Changing market conditions would


be the only reason to rip these out.” These are hand-picked to maintain


that premium quality. Second, late in the season, when


Elliotts ripen, the heat units have diminished, but it’s warmer under the poly row covers, which helps in the ripening process. His fields are drip-irrigated, so the


berries continue to get water in the same way once the covers are installed. Since he put them in, Hayre says


several other Fraser Valley growers have also installed tunnels in which to grow their berries. Hayre is second vice-president of the Canadian Horticulture Council and has been on the board of directors since 2012, as a representative of the B.C. Blueberry Council. He is a past- chairman of the B.C. Raspberry Industry Development Council. He also served on the board of the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C.


British Columbia Berry Grower • Fall-Winter 2017 5


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