meet, such as size. Fruit size is important to that market and they’ll pay a premium price for uniformly large fruit.

The downside is that B.C. ships

there in the same season Asian blueberries are being

harvested—and that industry is ramping up. Chile, on the other hand, ships to China in its off- season, so they have a distinct advantage.

But, China has a growing middle class, so interest in the little blue berries is growing too. A few packers also shipped to Japan, as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Dubai, he notes.

A concern for local growers is the continuing challenges of finding adequate labour, especially with increasing blueberry acreage, he adds. New varieties which are suitable for mechanical harvesting and produce a quality that’s right for the fresh market, would be a real boon to growers, he notes. However, it’s not expected that such a berry variety will be ready for growers for another six or seven years. “We’re always trying to build a better mouse trap,” he adds. Growers need to remember the importance of always aiming for the premium fresh market with top quality fruit. “Don’t take shortcuts on pruning or sprays. Follow good management practices or you’ll pay the price,” he warns. “Without proper pruning, you’ll get smaller berries and they will fetch lower prices,” he adds.

Although he admits Mother Nature can be challenging, he says, “We live in a pristine, wonderful area of the world with a good climate to grow in and a long growing season, which allows us to produce good quality fruit. We should maintain our image by growing the best quality fruit we can.”

Weather weirdness affects following season’s bud set

Consultant suspects we might have seen the last of ‘normal’ conditions. By Judie Steeves


xtreme weather continues to have unexpected impacts on agriculture, including last year’s light crop of blueberries. Horticultural consultant Mark Sweeney notes that bud set is affected by the previous year’s weather, so the weird growing season of 2016 reduced viable buds for the 2017 crop of blueberries.

While a normal growing season runs from May to September, in 2016 it began early and carried on long after September arrived, he recalls. “When the plants are slowed by cool weather in the fall, it triggers bud set. However, with a long summer that


Last fall, summer also continued with warm weather into the next season, but Sweeney is hopeful that it won’t have as serious consequences as the late summer of 2016 had. He does feel there will be lighter bud set in 2018 because of it, though.

A sharp freeze in November of 2016 finally cut ‘summer’ off, but that not only stopped any development of the buds for the next year, it also injured some of the existing buds, he figures, exacerbating the situation for the 2017 spring. So some buds didn’t mature and others were damaged.

“There’s not much we can do about the weather, and 2016 was a most unusual year,” he adds. In fact, not only was the crop four to five weeks early all year, but some plants experienced a second bloom in July, so that the pruners were eating blueberries as they worked, he recalls.

We will continue to experience extreme weather events, such as the most recent, January, 2018 ice storm in the Fraser Valley that caused tree limbs to break off, he predicts.

So-called ‘normal’ weather will no longer be ‘normal,’ he adds. However, growers can take some steps to help protect their crops, he advises. First, they can manage late-season vigour by better control of application of fertilizers such as nitrogen. The Bluecrop variety, for instance, is a vigorous variety anyway, and on good soils applications of nitrogen must be reduced. As long as plants continue to grow into the fall, they won’t set the flower buds needed for the next year’s crop, he states.

Another action growers can take is in making decisions about pruning. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, if bushes are more vigorous, you should prune less. If they have low vigour, you should prune more to encourage the plant to grow, he advises.

Pruning stimulates growth. British Columbia Berry Grower • Spring 2018 13

Draper blueberry buds delayed by several weeks in the spring of 2017.

continued into fall (in 2016), the plants continued to grow vigorously,” he explains.

He remembers a similar situation in 2013 when summer continued right into

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