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APRIL 2018 • COUNTRY LIFE IN BC


Cranberry growers wrestle with low yields Commission and growers consider challenges as local and global realities bite


by RONDA PAYNE RICHMOND – The


increasing challenges of oversupply and bad weather highlighted the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission (BCCMC) annual meeting in Richmond on March 7. Commission chair Jack


Brown opened the meeting with sobering details mixed with hope. “We’re not short of challenges; weather was challenging to say the least,” he said. “The crop was down, but I see this as a temporary downturn as renovated fields come online.” Brown tempered the


negative with the positive noting the success of the 2017 field day and how the cranberry research farm in Delta is “the envy of growers throughout the industry in North America.” Bob Mitchell provided the


board’s report noting that 70 grower licences, five producer-vendor licences and three agency licences were issued last year. BC had 6,483 registered


acres of cranberries yielding approximately 87.4 million pounds in 2017. The harvest was more than 10 million pounds below 2016’s harvest. By comparison, Quebec


produced 208.5 million pounds in 2017 while US production was more than 840 million pounds. Chile, once thought to be coming on strong as a competitor, harvested a paltry 48 million pounds.


Jeff Hamilton presented a state of the industry report and provided growers with various sources of industry statistics they would find interesting. Of most interest, however, was the growth of the sector in Quebec. “You can see the growth in


Quebec,” said Hamilton, noting most of Quebec’s production is not contracted to Ocean Spray. “They’ve become very good at growing organic fruit,” he added. “A third of their acreage is organic.” Quebec’s production


volume has been increasing and growers are selling cranberries into Europe “or somewhere other than the US,” Hamilton told the meeting.


Should Quebec’s growth be a concern for BC growers? Grant Keefer of Yellow Point Cranberries and chair of the BC Cranberry Growers Association, noted while cranberry production there has increased steadily over the past 10 to 15 years, it is now starting to slow.


“They have very consistent


growing conditions and good varietal purity with their cultivars,” he explained, “but relatively not as many new plantings as there were in the past.”


Keefer added trends show global cranberry production has been increasing while sales and consumption are flat or sometimes even negative. This has contributed to a surplus of concentrate fruit. “We, the growers and


handlers, should therefore be aware of these trends and understand the consequences when we see them in the future,” he said. “It is just my take on it as a grower.” US average cranberry


yields are going up, Hamilton noted, mostly due to Wisconsin’s increased yields. Canadian exports of cranberries to regions beyond the US are increasingly important as a result. Developing new markets has also been important in response to US efforts to cut


imports and exports of certain commodities. Hamilton added that USDA programs could be at risk, putting US exports and imports of cranberries in a precarious spot. “In order for us to compete,


obviously, we’re renovating,” Hamilton said. “I believe we need more research, and hope the dollar doesn’t go up to par [with the US dollar].”


Uncertain times BC Cranberry Growers


Association (BCCGA) members held their own AGM after the marketing board meeting. Keefer gave the chair’s report, thanking growers for their support of the organization. “We’re going to need to


make changes and tough decisions,” he said. Keefer stepped down as


chair after serving eight years but will remain on the board. With no new growers stepping up and existing directors allowing their names to stand for re-election, the


Election postponed RICHMOND – Election of BC Cranberry Marketing


Commission board members was postponed last month after irregularities were noted among nominees. The producer nominated to replace Jeff Hamilton was identified as a non-registered grower. The Farm Industry Review Board also took issue with the timeline for the election and on March 6, ordered its cancellation. “Mistakes were made,” admitted commission chair Jack


Brown. A new election date had not been set at press time. In spite of the oversight, on March 9, FIRB re-appointed


Brown to another three-year term as chair of the board. It will be his third term at the helm of the commission. —Ronda Payne


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2018 board has the same members as last year: Darsh Banns, Kyle Botkin, Grant Keefer, Lynn Kemper, Nicole Kelly, Clinton May, Kyle May and Scott May. The new chair will be selected at the next meeting of the board members. The unrestricted net assets of the BCCGA at the end of 2017 totaled $17,832, about half of what they were at the end of 2016 due to a decline in membership dues and increased research expenses. The loss in membership dues primarily reflects the withdrawal of two significant- sized growers who opted out of the voluntary membership. The loss of revenue poses a challenge to the association. “At our next director’s


meeting, we have to figure out how we’re going to move forward with the impasse with these growers,” said Mike Wallis, the organization’s executive director. A budget for 2018 wasn’t


presented due to the lack of funds and resulting


uncertainty. Wallis noted that the


reduced asset base will require a consolidation of efforts. A proposed research and promotion project around the gut-brain health benefits of cranberries will be supported with $30,000 from BCCGA and funds from other cranberry grower associations throughout North America. Wallis also pointed out that the BC Ministry of Agriculture’s Agricultural Waste Control Regulation is finally coming – in a hurry. “Our big concerns are


wood waste … and nutrition management plans,” he said. “It’s been going on for six years now. They are pushing a very aggressive schedule for getting it out for the end of March.”


Another issue Wallis mentioned is the Water Sustainability Act, noting people haven’t been registering. He reminded growers that the registration fee has been waived until March 2019.


37


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