M&M Pacific Coast Farms supervisor Santokh Nandha checks out ripe blueberries during the 2012 harvest season.

Early blueberry blooms run risk of crash crop

Warm winter has blueberry flowers opening weeks ahead of time, Fraser Valley farmers hope weather will be kind to blooms and bees

Blueberry fields in the Fraser Valley are already beginning to bloom thanks to a warm winter but farmers are worried the early start could spell trouble for the crop.

Jason Smith, a blueberry farmer and chair of the B.C. Blueberry Council, said buds on many blueberry plants have begun to open, putting the season about two to three weeks ahead of normal, depending on the species and location.

“I haven’t seen it this early for quite a number of years,” Smith said, adding plants are now at a stage that typically wouldn’t be expected until mid-March.

Cold weather could still return to the Lower Mainland and damage the tender buds while they’re vulnerable, so farmers have their fingers crossed for continued mild weather and a healthy, early crop.

“We certainly wouldn’t want to see a cold snap with moderate to strong winds at this point,” Smith said. “We can have snow into March. So there’s definitely a risk.”

Chilliwack-area blueberry farms appear to be a bit ahead of Abbotsford ones, he said, while plants in the Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge area appear furthest behind.

Another question mark is whether bees will be active enough to pollinate the crop during the critical three to four days when blueberry flowers are open.

“Those bees don’t fly unless it’s 15 or 16 degrees out,” Smith said. “And if there’s strong winds they’re not going to want to fly too far from the hive either.”

Many growers rent honeybee hives because blueberries require insect pollination.

He noted a lot can change through the season.

Last year a mild spring had growers preparing to harvest two weeks early but then cooler weather in May and June pushed it back to normal.

The Lower Mainland blueberry industry produced 68 million kilograms of fruit last year from 800 farms covering 11,000 hectares.