© Will Merydith/Flickr
ALBERTON -- The 2013 season was a record-breaking one for the West Prince Berry Co-op.
“It was an extraordinary year, actually,” assessed co-op president John Handrahan. “West Prince produced more blueberries than it ever did before.”
For the first time in its 49-year history the co-operative has shipped out more than a million pounds of blueberries in one season.
The 2013 harvest wrapped up last Wednesday and the final shipment was trucked out that day, bringing the total for the year to 1,084,000 pounds. That amount is what was shipped out through the co-operative. It does not include berries sold by growers who are not part of the co-operative or berries sold locally or through U-pick operations.
“The crop was good and the U-pickers were saying they felt it was a very good crop, too,” Handrahan reported. “Many people came back multiple times.”
Production, said the co-op president, has been inching upward in recent years, usually fluctuating between 700,000 and 900,000 pounds.
A number of factors combined to produce the bumper crop, he suggested.
“We had just very, very good growing conditions,” he explained.
“We had a nice warm spring – no frost on the blossom. We had a good, warm pollination period, which is what we didn’t have two years ago when we were farming the same land,” he said.
Growers were also able to secure more honeybees and bumble bees for the critical late May and early June pollination period, he added.
“It started out it was dry,” he said of the actual growing season, “but we did get rain in July and August when we needed it and, for those who still had fruit out on the vine, we got more rain in September, and all that added weight.”
The harvest would have been even greater, he admitted, if not for a bit of trouble with blight. He said losses were minimal.
The total harvest in P.E.I. last year was over 14 million pounds, so the West prince harvest is just a small portion of that. Handrahan said it is his understanding the harvest all across P.E.I. was good his year. Offsetting the P.E.I. numbers were two frosts in Quebec during the pollination period. The Quebec harvest, Handrahan said, is estimated to be off by 40 per cent this year, resulting in good demand for blueberries.
Co-op members, he said have been promised at least 70 per cent per pound for their product. “That might go higher. It may not, too,” Handrahan said. Sometimes it takes close to a year for growers to receive final payment on their shipments. Last year’s final payment was 77 cents a pound.
Although the commercial harvest is done, there is still some hand-picking going on and growers still have some work to do, including weed control and fall pruning.
The berry co-op has 32 members of which 22 harvested berries this year. There are 36 blueberry growers in the region.