The cranberry harvest has taken a hit this year across the province– Pitt Meadows being no exception.
The lower yield, however, was to be expected after a bumper crop in 2018, , according to the B.C. Cranberry marketing commission.
“The cranberry vines are rebuilding after last year’s top yield and some areas suffered winter damage earlier in the year,” said Jack Brown, chairman of the commission.
Travis Hopcott with Hopcott Farms in Pitt Meadows said his yield was about half the yield of last year.
Hopcott started his harvest mid-October and will be finishing up on Saturday.
He has four bogs, three that average about seven hectares each, and one that is only about two hectares.
Anywhere from nine to 13 people will be out in the bogs harvesting his crop.
Usually he harvests close to 680,389 kilograms of cranberries in an average year that are destined for Ocean Spray and sold internationally as Craisins. This year he said he harvested 317,515 kilograms at best.
He blames his low yield on the unique weather system that took place Feb. 9 and 10 this year.
Hopcott said the warmer winter meant the cranberries were just about waking up, a little bit earlier than normal. But, he said, those two days were cold, there was a clear sky, wind and the dew point was very low. “That’s what just made everything so dry,” said Hopcott.
So, instead of producing a fruity bud, the plants produced a vegetative bud.
The good thing about cranberries, noted Hopcott, is that they are cyclical.
“That usually means the plants will rebound the next year, even more so,” he said.
Cranberriesare grown just like any other plant, Hopcott explained. They want a moist and well drained soil and only during the harvest do they flood the field.
Initially they fill the bog with water to about 31 cm above the ground. Then they go into the field with a machine that looks like an eggbeater but on its side. The machine rotates and smacks the berries off the vine. Then they add in more water until the water level is about 62 cm above the ground. Workers will then use booms to corral the floating berries and drag them to the corner of the bog where they will be pumped into a container and sent to be cleaned.
Harvesting cranberries this way makes the most economic sense, said Hopcott.
“Foremost because cranberries aren’t really meant for fresh, so they don’t have to be as carefully handled, as a blueberry, most of that goes for fresh that are handpicked,” he said.
And he said, only five per cent of the cranberry yield will be earmarked for fresh with the remaining 95 per cent for processing.
There is so much interest in the cranberry harvest locally that Hopcott has started giving tours, in English and in Mandarin. Mon to Fri 10 a.m. and on the weekend at 1:30 p.m. Mandarin and English
There are 80 cranberry growers across B.C. that farm more than 2549 ha, (6300 acres), of cranberries. Around 95 per cent of B.C.’s growers belong to the Ocean Spray cooperative.
Nature’s Touch and Pacific Canadian Fruit Packers also purchase B.C. cranberries and package them as well as freezing, drying and creating other forms of cranberry products for the market.