Robson Valley Agricultural Producers Guide • Wednesday, September 29, 2010 • A 7
Cultivation of Wild Blueberries by Russ Purvis
Photo by Russ Purvis
Northern Vineyards by Russ Purvis Farming by its nature has many uncertainties. Warmth, moisture, insect and wildlife pests and severity of winter all can impact a crop in any given year. Given the complexities, starting a new crop in an area without any history requires patience and the willingness to experiment. Kelly Mortensen sees himself at the beginning of a new 3-5 year cycle. He has 100 new hybrid rootstocks growing off of Mountainview Road, just outside of McBride. He knows table grapes will grow in the Valley. Wine grapes are slightly more “finicky” according to Kelly. A few years back he started out with five varieties. There’s been a bit of a learning curve, with winter die-off being just one of the challenges. Now he feels he’s got two varieties that should thrive. Of course they have to mature, wine needs to be made and the process of getting licensed is still ahead. What has he learned? Agriculture Canada won’t let him import German or Californian rootstock because of the disease potential. That means he has to use North American varieties. Until two years ago he claimed the distinction of the world’s most northern vineyard. Now, there is a German vineyard at the same latitude as Prince George. Boutique wineries with small production and a quality product can be financially rewarding. But, it’s not an overnight process. We may be in a 3b climatic zone now, but if climate change continues to give us milder seasons we may become 4a, making it easier to grow wine grapes. He acknowledges it’s going to take some marketing savvy to meet his goal of a successful boutique winery. Kelly believes in the value of persistence. I look forward to visiting his tasting room in 2015.
Observing the thriving businesses of others and adapting to fit local conditions can be a successful farming strategy. John McGuireª of Valemount’s Greenstar Forest Solutionsª believes the wild blueberry cultivation and marketing by growers in Nova Scotia might be duplicated as both a crop and management strategy for local pine forests. Nova Scotia’s provincial production, according to web sources, is over forty million pounds. The wild blueberry is the number one fruit crop in acreage export sales, and value to Nova Scotia, where they are exported to the U.S., Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom as well as others. Blueberries require a highly acidic soil. They seem to be a natural companion plant to existing pine forests, because of the acidic soil pines create. As McGuire points out there are pine flats in and around Valemount. Fire Smart practices for a managed forest dictate periodic thinning and brushing. This is just the kind of behavior that stimulates blueberry growth. They have an extensive root system, which allows them to regenerate quickly, as well as “smother out up to 17 different varieties of invasive species” he said. He expects to have seed stock ready in about a year, with a plan to irrigate a test area. Some farms in Nova Scotia are known to harvest 4,400 lbs per acre with a mechanical rake harvest system. If all goes according to plan he could be harvesting 100,000 lbs/season in 5 years. Sounds like another sustainable business in the making.
Photos by Joshua Estabrooks
September 29 2010 Edition of The Valley Sentinel