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AUGUST 2019 • COUNTRY LIFE IN BC BC berry research gets big funding boost


Financial commitments support largest-ever research program


by RONDA PAYNE


ABBOTSFORD—Ottawa seems to be paying attention to both the plight and potential of BC berry growers. On July 4, federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau was joined by Mission- Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu at Berry Haven Farm in Abbotsford to announce $3.6 million in federal funding to support a number of berry research programs.


The funding, to be


delivered over the next five years, is made possible through the AgriScience program of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. While blueberry acreage continues to increase in BC, growers face steep competition from around the world, and growth often comes at the expense of strawberry and raspberry fields. All three berries stand to beneift from new variety development that would differentiate BC berries from others and are better suited to growing conditions here. “[This funding will enable]


research to help growers to increase berry yields while reducing inputs … and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” says Bibeau. The funds will support the


largest-ever BC-based berry research program. Industry is contributing an additional $1.4 million in addition to the $1 million of government funding announced in May, raising the total program allocation to $6 million. Cross-commodity funding facilitates an umbrella research directive for strawberry, raspberry and blueberry research that will help ensure competitiveness in global markets and support sustainability. Research will focus on breeding berry varieties better adapted to the BC climate; greater yield, quality and shelf life; improved pest and disease resistance and, for raspberries and blueberries, the ability to be machine-harvested. The funding will be administered by the Lower Mainland Horticulture Improvement Association which coordinates BC berry breeding and associated research programs on behalf of the BC Blueberry Council, Raspberry Industry Development Council and BC Strawberry Growers Association. “We have a long track


record of investing in new varieties,” says LMHIA


treasurer David Mutz of Berry Haven Farm. “It’s essential to adapting to consumer demands and changing climate. One of the pillars of the program is genetics. This will allow us to do our own specialization and really do the best we can for Canada.”


Already a leader BC is already a leader in


berry production. BC produces more blueberries than any other province. Statistics Canada estimates more than 76,000 tons of blueberries were harvested in the province last year, with a farmgate value of more than $161 million. BC is also a significant


producer of raspberries with more than $19 million in sales on 8,707 tons. Fresh strawberries, while a smaller crop at 1,222 tons in 2018, were valued at $5.5 million. With global berry consumption expected to increase, the growth and sustainability of the province’s berry sector is essential, but challenged due to factors like high land costs, changing climate and competition from producers in other regions. BC blueberry exports totaled $222 million according to provincial statistics. BC also produces 80% of Canada’s raspberries, accounting for 97% of the $11 million in national exports. Cultivars with better climate adaptation, genetic resistance to pests and diseases and superior fruit


Berry nice! Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu and federal minister of agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau were in Abbotsford in July to announce an additional $3.6 million in funding to support berry research programs in BC. RONDA PAYNE PHOTO


yield and quality are critical to the industry. They’ll also help meet Ottawa’s goal of achieving $75 billion dollars in agricultural exports by 2025. “We will certainly be


relying on the BC berry industry to help meet this target,” Bibeau told growers. Mutz says berry growers will also need to stay focused on growing world- class products, which the research programs will make possible. “We have a bright future,


even given some of the current challenges,” says Mutz.


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