13 BC hosts International Blueberry Organization

Richmond meeting attracts 500 growers from around the world


RICHMOND—Developing new markets and enhancing fruit quality were top of mind for the nearly 500 people who met in Richmond at the end of June for the International Blueberry Organization summit. “We have had an industry that has done very well for decades with a model that hasn’t changed drastically,” said Cort Brazelton, co-CEO of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery Inc. in Lowell, Oregon and founder of the IBO. “We should see significant change in the production and consumption of the crop.” A state of the industry

report Brazelton authors for the organization says growing demand for blueberries has pushed worldwide production to more than a billion pounds in 2018, according to official estimates. (Brazelton believes it’s closer to 950 million pounds.) The top 10 producing countries represent more than 88% of the total, but this has slipped as plantings expand into non- traditional growing areas. The growth of production has also put pressure on growers to produce better fruit and become more competitive in terms of maintaining market access. “Different markets have

different needs and different demands,” Brazelton told the summit. “They are looking for

different things and the way the product eventually arrives to consumers is distinctive.” The market in North America is a volume game, he explained, with a lot of brands competing for attention without really distinguishing themselves. “You see less differentiation

at retail,” he said. “Europe is highly focused on differentiation. … And China is rapidly growing with a high-quality focus, and they’re developing different forms of gate-keeping on their own.”

Market retention Knowing how to access

and retain those markets is key to making sure growers aren’t left with product as production around the world increases. Producers in Mexico and

Peru have been able to tap into US consumers’ demand for fresh blueberries when local fruit isn’t available, noted Colin Fain, founder and CEO of market research firm AgronoMetrics. Producers in North America need to do the same thing if they want to find a home for their growing production. “You need to think international,” he said, noting US production could increase 25% by 2022 while Europe is on track to account for 30% of world consumption, and China is set to rise to 10%. “China and Europe are

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BC FRUIT GROWERS’ ASSOCIATION 1-800-619-9022 (ext 1) email:

Delegates to the International Blueberry Organization’s summit had an opportunity to tour BC blueberry fields in June. An early crop gave them quite a show. PETER MITHAM PHOTO

active role in taking that consumption, and making use of those blueberries, and unless the blueberry industry in the US does something to pick that up, they’re going to become a minority player,” he said. Fain suggested growers are putting themselves at risk by paying little attention to fruit quality, in part because there’s no way to measure the value of sales lost after a buyer experiences low-quality fruit.

While many regions, including BC, are pinning their hopes on improved berry genetics, Brazelton said that game’s changing, too. Government investments of the kind BC agriculture minister Lana Popham touted in her keynote address to the conference are now up against commercial breeders. “Breeding is no longer solely the world of public institutions,” he said. “Beyond that, there are marketer-

controlled genetics that are leveraged in an effort to create value at the market level but also to create an effective, controlled ecosystem on the supply side.”

The changes are

reminiscent of shifts that have taken place in other horticultural crops, such as tree fruits, and are changing how growers access varieties.

See CHANGE on next page o

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