For blueberry farmers in Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie, decades of hard work were washed away with one fatal blow from Mother Nature.
“They spent their lives working on it; they lost their houses, and now their livelihoods,” said Jason Smith, chair of the B.C. Blueberry Council. Smith is also the owner and operator of Fraser Berry Farms in Abbotsford.
Smith says his Matsqui property, north of Sumas Prairie, avoided major damage during the atmospheric river that pounded down on the Fraser Valley in mid-November. However, he says he won’t walk away unscathed.
“I had about three feet of water in the fields for about five days,” Smith said. “I’m concerned with all the extra things I’m going to have to do because of how long the roots were under water.”
Smith says a pricey rebuild lies ahead, but it’s nothing compared to his fellow growers down the road in Sumas Prairie.
“Some guys still have five, six feet of water in their fields,” he said.
Smith says the blueberry industry as a whole in B.C. won’t suffer much, as the region only accounts for a small percentage of overall production, but for those affected, a full rebuild is far from a sure thing.
“I can’t see how those plants will ever recover fully,” he said. “If we’re talking long-term, it’s two years to get plants, you’re looking at another eight-plus years to hit maturity to get back to where they were.”
“Are you going to risk five years trying to recover those plants to get them back to half of what they were?”
Smith estimates the areas that were significantly impacted by the floods account for between five and nine per cent of the industry in B.C.
“The majority of the industry is ok,” he said. “That being said, there’s a lot of growers that have been seriously impacted, and they can’t be forgotten, because none of this is their fault.”