SHEFFIELD MILLS, N.S. - Bob Kidston of Blueberry Acres says he doesn’t know where the blueberry pickers have come from again this year, but he’s glad they showed up.
His family’s highbush blueberry operation used to average 300 commercial pickers per year, but for the second straight year, 600 people have come to pick berries at the Kings County operation.
And that has been a good thing.
“The heat has really escalated the ripening, so all the varieties are coming on at once,” Kidston said. “Some of them are three or four weeks earlier than the norm. We’re trying to keep up, that’s what we’re doing.”
Kidston said the support of local pickers has been very fortunate.
“They’ve been coming in droves, it’s been amazing, really.”
Warm nights mean the berries have kept ripening, instead of slowing down after dark.
And the heat of this summer has been causing other issues, too, Kidston said.
“Fruit going into the plant has to be pre-cooled to get the field heat out, and it takes longer. Usually a 65 or 70-degree (Farenheit) berry will take two hours to get down to 55 degrees, but when you take them in at 85 or 90 degrees it’s another hour and it taxes the cooling systems.”
Workers have been picking between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds of berries a day, Kidston said.
He said he expects another good crop this year, with lots of demand. The fields weren’t badly affected by the June frosts.
U-pick operations are down 25 per cent this year, Kidston said, primarily because of the heat.
It’s been too hot, a lot of people just don’t want to go out in the field,” he said. “They get out of the car and the heat sets them right back.”
U-pick only accounts for 10 per cent of the operation.
Blueberry Acres, which is owned by Agri-Nova, has about 80 hectares of highbush berries. Perfect Berries in Aylesford has about the same, and other growers in the province have about 40 hectares combined.
Nova Scotia is the only area in North and South America where berries are being harvested in August, meaning there's plenty of demand.