Blueberry Pie Anyone?

TV1 News had an item on the Blueberry Harvest last night, there being very little else to report other than the road toll.  Now if there is one niche crop in this country that  should be relatively happy with itself, then it ought to be Blueberries.  I am not an authoritative Blueberry expert, so I will not quote detailed data – but

  • local Blueberry consumption is increasing at a rate of knots
  • export markets exist and and have the ability to absorb more fruit
  • Blueberries are being  linked to a variety of well being and health enhancing properties with the science community actually supporting any marketing message growers care to develop.

But what happens?  The Blueberry grower interviewed in the news item chooses to focus on a dooms day scenario and expresses his fears of being wiped out “next year” by cheap Chilean imports.  Give me strength!

Yes, Chile produces Blueberries at the same time of year as us.  Yes, they have a cheaper labour regime and are therefore more competitive.  Yes, they are producing incredible volumes of Blueberries and therefore also have the advantage of scale. 

So there we are – TV exposure, a helpful reporter who sets the scene by quoting very complimentary Nielsen data that should make every Blueberry consumer happy and rush to the stores to buy more – and we manage to find a negative angle to what amounts to an incredible success story.

Time for a reality check then:

Firstly, Chile produces a few other crops as well, such as apples and summerfruit.  When did we last see an invasion of Chilean cherries, apricots or Braeburn apples in this country?  Where does that notion come from that we could be flooded with Chilean Blueberries?  Chile has other and bigger fish to fry than focusing on cornering the New Zealand market.  That will not get them anywhere.  Apart from that, there is the small matter of logistics, i.e.; how would the fruit get here in the first place and how competitively priced would it be after freight costs had been added?

Secondly, in early 2010 Chile was the initiator of getting an International Blueberry Federation going.  The main thought there being that those countries which were Blueberry producers should find ways to work together in promoting the consumption of Blueberries and to grow the market.   I ended up getting involved in this exercise through my IFPS role. It seemed that the New Zealand Blueberry industry did not wish to be part of such a body and it was only very reluctantly that one of two of the industry’s more senior members agreed to at least communicate with that new global industry body.  What did the Chinese strategist Sun-tzu say?  “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  I would have thought that this  message  would have sunken in by now, even in Blueberry country.  That way one would at least not have to speculate so much about what the Chileans might or might not want to do.

Lastly, our real challenge vis a vis our international competitors is a different one altogether.  Its one of lack of access to new plant varities bred overseas.  Our HSNO Act is causing havoc with our ability to compete, but that is a different story.

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