Abbotsford raspberry farmer TJ Deol is considering his options as the B.C. raspberry industry faces stiff competition from cheap imports.
Francis Georgian / Postmedia News
All TJ Deol ever wanted to do was farm.Growing up on his family’s 40-acre raspberry farm in Abbotsford, he planned to work with his father after finishing university.But now, at age 25 and with a business degree to his name, he’s not certain about his future on the sandy land that produces some of Canada’s best raspberries.“I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do,” he said Saturday. “My dad isn’t sure though. He’s worried there’s no future here.”In November, the family uprooted 10 acres of canes — about one-quarter of their crop — with plans to replant in blueberries. An aunt, who owns a neighbouring raspberry farm, also turned over a field.Looking out over the muddy land that once grew berries, Deol is unsure if it will be enough: “I’m wondering if I should get a job as an accountant?”
TJ Deol on the family raspberry farm that is facing stiff competition from cheap imports.
Francis Georgian /
Last year was one of the roughest seasons in recent memory for B.C. raspberry farmers, said James Bergen, chair of the Raspberry Industry Development Council. “There was a lack of buyers looking for product.”B.C. farmers sell their berries on the global market, competing with growers from countries where labour is cheap. At current world prices, it’s difficult for B.C. farmers, who face significantly higher land and labour costs, to turn a profit, even with the benefit of better technology.Our northern climate also creates sweet, juicy berries that don’t transport well, meaning the local crop is mostly processed for use in jams, juices and jellies. But the likelihood of the raspberry swirl in your ice cream or yogurt coming from B.C. is decreasing with the rise of imported berries from countries such as Mexico and China, as well as Eastern Europe.“Buyers are looking for the cheapest rate,” said Bergen.Ministry of Agriculture statistics reveal that in 2014, B.C. imported three million kilograms of raspberries in various forms from frozen to boiled. By 2018, that number had climbed to 5.8 million kg.As a result, B.C. farmers have been leaving the raspberry industry and turning to other crops and, sometimes, other professions.“Nothing lasts forever, but it’s still a sad thing,” said Sukh Kahlon, president of the B.C. Raspberry Growers’ Association. “These are generational family farms that have been growing raspberries for a long time, with expertise that has been passed on.”While B.C. remains the largest raspberry-producing province in Canada, production has been dropping since the 1980s when it peaked at about 40 million pounds on 6,000 acres, according to Ministry of Agriculture figures.During the last five years, production has fluctuated between 12 to 20 million pounds on about 2,500 acres, mostly in the Fraser Valley. At last count, raspberry cultivation had decreased by another one-fifth, dropping to about 2,000 acres.“The industry has let us know that their biggest challenge has been losing market share to cheaper raspberries from other regions,” a Ministry spokesperson told Postmedia News. “Specifically, they have been hurt by the imports of frozen raspberries and raspberry byproducts from regions with lower production costs.”Kahlon said the local industry is looking for ways to “level the playing field” by working to develop varieties that grow well in B.C. and produce higher yields or berries better able to handle transport.“That’s a 10- to 15-year process,” he said. “In the meantime, prices are coming down and costs are going up. How do you make those two lines meet?”
A handful of B.C. raspberries at harvest. Raspberries are typically ready in early summer and peak during the last two weeks of July.
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