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Lower Mainland blueberry farmers hope heat hasn’t harmed later variety crops

Duke, the earliest variety, most affected by recent heat wave
The recent heat wave may have spared later variety of blueberries. (The News files)

Blueberry farmers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are hopeful that berries yet to ripen will have been spared by the recent heat wave that enveloped the region at the end of June.

Berries that had already ripened, like the Duke variety, the earliest of the blueberry varieties, were most susceptible to the hot temperatures with many of the berries drying up like raisins.

Ting Wu, owner and operator of Formosa Nursery, a certified organic farm in Pitt Meadows that also grows raspberries and other fruits, saw a lot of damage from the heat.

“The plant still seems not too bad but the fruit is damaged,” he said, adding that it’s the worst he has seen in 40 years.

Austin Doong with Doremi Blueberry Farm said his berries won’t be ripe for another week and for that he is thankful. Damage to his blueberries is minimal, he said.

“Usually they are a lot more resilient when they are green,” said Doong, who grows the Blue crop variety.

Once blueberries become bigger and plumper, they become like a raisin when they suddenly become dehydrated, he described.

A heat dome engulfed the Pacific Northwest on June 25, with rare thermal conditions that did not allow for cooling overnight.

Environment Canada reported an all-time high of 41.4 Celsius in Pitt Meadows on Monday, June 28, the peak of the heat wave, which shattered the old record of 37.6 C set in 2009. In fact, records were broken three times over that weekend with 40 C temperature on Sunday and 37.8 on Saturday at the Pitt Meadows weather station.

Navdeep Middar, operations manager at Twin Berry Farms, that has been operating in Pitt Meadows for 36 years, saw a lot of her early berries dry up. She calls them soft berries.

“We’re still picking, but it’s not the capacity where it was last year,” she explained.

READ MORE: Highest-ever temperature 41.4 C recorded in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge

People who come to her farm for you-pick, can still pick from the early varieties, Middar said, but the berries that went soft, workers have to spend valuable time removing.

“Then it becomes third grade or a juice berry. And having that type of grade so early is not common,” she noted, adding that they lose out not only because they have to work harder to remove the berries, but because the berries are not worth as much.

It’s still too early to tell if the later varieties that were not so advanced in the ripening stages might come out OK.

“It’s hard to say,” said Jack Bates, past chair of the B.C. Blueberry Council and a grower in Delta. He said there was less damage done to the crops in Delta than in other regions. However, when temperatures hit the upper 30’s, into the 40’s, he said there is going to be damage.

READ MORE: Heat records smashed across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

The heat wave ended the strawberry season quickly, and raspberries, he noted, never really got a chance to start growing.

“At least the saving grace that we might have hope with the blueberries, the later varieties are still green and will ripen later in the month,” said Bates.

“Hopefully they’ll be OK.”

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

Colleen Flanagan is an award-winning multimedia journalist with more than 15 years experience in the industry.
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