The National Farmers Union (NFU) in NB believes that a recently announced land swap on the Acadian Peninsula is a bad idea. On October 31 the province announced it would grant 15,712 acres to Oxford Frozen Foods, a multinational company with head offices in Oxford, NS, for future blueberry cultivation, in exchange for private land that is unsuitable for growing the crop.
Oxford Frozen Foods has promised to build a $50 million factory to process blueberries. Although the company operates eight factories in NS, NB and Maine, the NB government has offered to loan the corporation $37.5 million toward an expansion of its already very successful business. Oxford Frozen Foods has promised that 300 jobs will be created. No one has indicated when the jobs will materialize, whether this number includes short-term construction jobs, if they will be permanent or seasonal positions, or what the jobs will pay.
Oxford Frozen Foods is the main benefactor in this deal, at the expense of the wild blueberry producers in northeast NB. On October 28 the Minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, Michael Olscamp, said: “Wild blueberries are unique to northeastern North America and demand for them is growing around the world due to their health benefits.”
This release stated that to keep pace with demand NB must develop at least 20,000 acres of wild blueberries on both private and Crown lands. Olscamp announced that more than 5,600 acres of Crown land will be made available to local producers for wild blueberry production on the Acadian Peninsula during the next 24 months, along with $600,000 for development of common water wells and access roads.
Three days later our government offered the use of nearly three times as much land to an out-of-province corporation, after repeated requests over many years by successful NB growers for more access to crown land to grow their operations.
Olscamp said, “This strategy is aimed at ensuring our blueberry producers can keep up with world-wide demand while supporting companies and individuals that want to diversify or grow into the value-added food and bio-products sector.” But a proposal to establish a grower-owned cooperative to process blueberries has reportedly received no support from government.
As a general farm organization that promotes family farms and sustainable production methods, the NFU in NB believes that the decision to assign so much crown land for use by Oxford Frozen Foods will hurt blueberry producers already operating in the area. Bankrolling this large multinational will grow this business to the detriment of any smaller competitors.
“This announcement should be a concern to all farmers, to all citizens of NB, not just blueberry producers,” said Jean-Eudes Chiasson, President of the NFU in NB. “Independent blueberry producers in northeast NB currently produce more than 40 million pounds of blueberries. Why would the province choose to jeopardize the livelihoods of farm families currently involved in successful blueberry production and give such an advantage to a multinational company?”
“Our government must support local food producers and processors if we are to increase our consumption of food grown in NB,” said Marieka Chaplin, Executive Director of the NFU in NB. “Based on our conversations with blueberry producers in this region, we support the creation of a cooperative as proposed by the producers.”