A Review of Bleuets NB Blueberries Annual Conference 2024

Thursday 9 May 2024

This past weekend the Atlantic Tech Transfer Team for Apiculture had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Bleuets New Brunswick Blueberries (BNBB) Annual Conference in Moncton, NB. The event was very well attended with approximately 200 combined attendees including delegates, industry representatives and trade show presenters. Read this week’s blog to learn the highlights of the event.

A Review of Bleuets NB Blueberries Annual Conference 2024

On May 3rd and 4th the Bleuets NB Blueberries held their annual conference for members of the wild blueberry industry. The event began on Friday afternoon with a welcome from outgoing BNBB president René Chiasson followed by a smudging ceremony provided by David Paul.  The Hon. Margaret Johnson gave a review of the importance of the blueberry sector for the province of New Brunswick and an overview of the strategic direction for the industry in the next number of years.  Overall, an exciting time of growth and expansion for the New Brunswick wild blueberry industry was presented by Minister Johnson.

Bleuets New Brunswick Blueberries Conference: Outgoing president René Chaisson receiving a gift in recognition of his leadership of the association for the past four years (also pictured, right, Donald Arseneault, directeur general, Bleuets NB Blueberries).

A federal guaranteed loan program, Advanced Payments Program, was outlined by Kara Chisholm, Executive Director of Agric-Commodity Management Association.  This program is designed to help farmers, including blueberry producers and beekeepers, with cashflow.  Advances are available to farmers each year between April 1 and August 31st annually.  The Program is being managed by the Agri-Commodity group for New Brunswick blueberry producers and details are available from Kara or her team members.

A marketing campaign aimed to promote wild blueberry consumption in the province of New Brunswick is supported by the NBBA and managed by the Ginger Agency.  A presentation by Sarah Martell, the agency’s president, outlined the promotional activities and social media work being done on behalf of blueberry producers.  Sarah’s talk was followed by board members of WBANA, including Partick O’Neil as the new Executive Director, who shared all the work this group is doing to support the wild blueberry industry national and international. 

The first day’s events concluded with a “fire-side” chat with John Bragg of Oxford Frozen Foods.  Mr. Bragg shared his remembrance of the early days of the wild blueberry industry and some advice for growers when facing the challenges of the future.  A Minister’s reception was a great finale and provided great opportunities to continue the discussions of the day.

The event continued May 4th with a presentation from Gilbert Lavoie (Forest Lavoie Conseil). Lavoie gave an informative presentation on the various factors impacting the wild blueberry market in Eastern Canada. Currently, Canada exports 75-85% of their total production to 35 countries, where the exporting price is dictated by supply and demand. The amount of inventory of wild blueberries drives market price, where there is an inverse relationship between the inventory and price. Last year, the Maritimes did not have a surplus production year, with 126 million pounds produced, which normally helps the market price, but this was not the case in 2023. Cultivated blueberries can help explain why the market price of wild blueberries was low, as cultivated blueberries were sold for less than wild blueberries which drove wild blueberry sales down. Lavoie also discussed how we can improve the wild blueberry industry moving forward. One of the most important aspects is for volume and price stability. The industry also needs to promote the added benefits of wild blueberries to the public, so that consumers are choosing wild over cultivated blueberries.

There was a presentation from Michel Melanson (Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries) on behalf of the New Brunswick Wild Blueberry Pollination Strategy group. The working group consists of 2 representatives from BNBB, 2 from New Brunswick Beekeepers’ Association, 1 from ATTTA, and selected members from the NB Department of Agriculture. The group has developed a 5-year workplan to help address the need for more pollinators in New Brunswick.

Melanson discussed the main issues identified by this group, including honey bee health, market prices of honey and wild blueberries, labor shortages, and the international movement and availability of colonies. Given the anticipated increase in wild blueberry production in NB (39,000 acres of wild blueberry land will increase to 56,600 acres by 2029), the province will need to increase the current 9,500 NB honey bee colonies to 17,000, and the current 23,000 imported colonies to 40,000 colonies. Additionally, the number of leaf cuter bees will need to increase from 5,500 colonies to 7,000, and the number of bumble bee quads will need to increase from 9,000 to 11,000 to meet the demand for pollinating units.

The goals of the group include increasing the number of NB colonies, increasing the number of colonies being imported outside of the province, increasing the number of leaf cuter and bumble bees available to growers, and increasing support for native pollinators. Some of the initiatives of the group include advocating for financial support programs for NB beekeepers, education on honey bee health, increasing bee yard opportunities, promoting leaf cuter bees, and surveying the current need for bumble bees.

David Percival (Dalhousie University) gave a presentation on UAV systems and agrochemical delivery. He discussed the use of several systems for both the delivery of pesticides and nutrients. Percival discussed the use of these systems to develop fescue maps, which identifies where agrochemicals need to be sprayed for fescue and saves product and money by not providing a blanket pesticide application.

Dr. Lily Calderwood (University of Maine) gave a presentation on the current research being done regarding the use of mulch in wild blueberry fields. The use of mulch is useful in drought conditions, where it helps a field retain water for longer due to the increased water holding capacity compared to soil. Mulch also has the added benefit of smothering weeds, decreasing the amount of leaf spot disease, and decreasing tip midge presence. The study found wood chips to be the best choice for mulch in wild blueberry fields.

Dr. Craig MacEachern (Dalhousie University) discussed optimizing field efficiency during wild blueberry harvest with the use of various harvesters, and the benefit of having autosteer. The use of autosteer maximizes the amount of blueberries being harvested, and it also significantly helps the operator do their job.

The final presentation of the morning was from Colleen Craig on behalf of the Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA). Colleen discussed the various projects WBANA funds all related to the health benefits of wild blueberries.

During the afternoon, ATTTA program lead, Dr. Andrew Byers, presented details of the overall work of the group and upcoming research in 2024. The team has a variety of projects lined-up, which will focus on honey bee health in the Maritimes; maximizing pollinator efficiency; and research on non-Apis pollinators.  John MacDonald outlined a body of work planned for the next few years which will also provide him with an opportunity to complete his MSc degree with Dalhousie University.  This collaborative effort will develop tools and models for improved placement and ultimately removal of honey bees placed on blueberry fields.

Other presentations of the event included Dr. Marion Tétégan Simon (VALORÉS) who gave a presentation on the fertilization requirements of wild blueberries and discussed current climate concerns for growers. The NB Agri-Alliance discussed options for addressing seasonal workforce needs. Finally, the event wrapped up with a presentation from Cedric MacLeod (Living Lab New Brunswick) who discussed the work of his team and explained various options for farmers to manage greenhouse gas emissions.

Thank you to all members of the BNBB who helped organize this event, and to those who work to support the wild blueberry industry in New Brunswick.

Connecting with ATTTA Specialists

If you’d like to connect with ATTTA specialists or learn more about our program, you can:

visit our website at https://www.perennia.ca/portfolio-items/honey-bees/

Email abyers@perennia.ca