Production in Canada, Mexico boosts profile
By STEVE BROWN
Demand for raspberries and blackberries has risen steadily in recent years, and West Coast growers continue to dominate the market.
From California to British Columbia, the market for caneberries is good, industry representatives said.
But the economic downturn has been reflected in demand.
"It's not a robust market because the economy is chugging along," said Henry Bierlink, the Washington Red Raspberry Commission's executive director. "The market is stretched a bit, covering production costs."
It's slow going for blackberries, too, the USDA's Chad Finn said.
Finn, with the agency's Agricultural Research Service, said "not that many" new blackberries were planted last year.
"Plantings over the past five years were steadily upward, so it's not surprising it would back off a bit," he said. "We've got a lot of new varieties, so people are waiting to see if they go well.
"Health benefits are a big driver in blueberries, (but) not so much in caneberries, though they are better in what people have chosen to measure," he said.
Raspberries, for example:
* Are high in vitamin C and fiber.
* Provide folate, vitamins B2 and B3, magnesium and other essential nutrients.
* Contain ellagitannins, important cancer-fighting compounds.
* Have 50 percent more antioxidant activity than strawberries, placing them in the top 15 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition's best antioxidant sources.
Rod Cook, president and CEO of Ag-View Consulting, said the upward trends in caneberries are due in large part to those health benefits.
"There's a resurgence in consumer use of many fruits, and even fast-food companies are breaking into the fruit business," Cook said. "Inventories are down, and more berries are coming into the market this year."
Washington leads in growing red raspberries, raising 65.7 million pounds valued at $57 million in 2009, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. California produces 57.8 million pounds of raspberries. Oregon is the big blackberry producer, raising more than 50 million pounds valued at $28.4 million.
"But the big story worldwide is Mexican production," Finn said. "Caneberry production has expanded from a few hundred acres to 20,000 to 25,000 acres. Meanwhile we're at 8,000 acres."
Mexico's production has benefited the industry overall, he said.
"Mexico has a variety that can have year-round production and pretty good quality," he said. "Their presence in our off-season has helped our industry as a whole."
On the other hand, Finn said, "The (U.S.) industry has done a poor job of promoting frozen berries, for instance, for smoothies and for baking. They're a lot cheaper and a lot better quality product than the fresh berries coming from Mexico."
In 2009 the U.S. imported 12,407 metric tons of fresh Mexican raspberries, valued at $69.2 million.
During July and August, most fresh raspberries come from Canada. In 2009, the U.S. imported 2.3 million pounds of Canadian raspberries, valued at $2.8 million.
British Columbia's Fraser Valley is the center of the Canadian raspberry industry. Sharmin Gamiet, executive director of the Raspberry Industry Development Council, said Canadian growers often cooperate with Washington groups. "The 49th parallel doesn't exist for us," she said.
Groups on both sides of the border are building a cooperative program, she said, with a federal grant helping to harmonize efforts to increase production.
The Fraser Valley's 175 growers produce about 20 million pounds on 4,200 acres, and nearly all of the raspberries go into processing. British Columbia has 12 primary processors, six individually quick frozen plants, one juice plant and nine fresh packers. Fresh berries are shipped throughout North America and to the Pacific Rim.
"Prices are fluctuating," Gamiet said. "They're low right now; they were high a few years ago. The market's slowly declining, because of high land costs and decreasing yields."
However, she said, there's promise in the development of varieties better-suited for the climate and for machine harvesting.
"Researchers are taking proactive steps in boosting the berry industry, because it contributes so much to the economy," she said.
Percentage of crop to processing:
Oregon red raspberries 82%
Oregon black raspberries 98%
Oregon Marionberries 97%
Oregon other blackberries 88%
Washington raspberries 99%
Oregon blueberries 56%
Washington blueberries 70%
Source: USDA NASS