Fruit growers collaborate on saskatoon research


Possible checkoff | The Saskatoon Berry Council will collect samples to analyze and promote the fruit’s health properties

Saskatchewan fruit growers can’t build an industry on their own, say two industry officials. 


The Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association (SFGA) and the Sask-atoon Berry Council of Canada (SBCC) hope to prove that there’s power in numbers by collecting information from individual producers about prairie fruit production. 


“As an industry, it’s no different than the canola or pulse industry,” said Sandra Purdy, head of the SBCC. 


“It’s the collaboration of many growers that allow you to actually enter into larger markets with volume of supply.”


Purdy said the council is working on market development and finding new buyers for commercial growers whose production has outgrown farmers’ markets. 


But to do that, producers need to better understand the saskatoon berry’s properties, including its amino acid and lipid content. Armed with that knowledge, the council will be able to better market saskatoons to functional food and nutraceutical processors in Canada and the United States, she said.


The council will collect saskatoon berries this summer from growers across Western Canada. It’s looking for half-pound samples from as many varieties and regions as possible to be submitted for analysis. Purdy said the data should be collected by the end of the year. 


The project was to have been conducted last year, but was delayed by poor growing conditions. 


“There is data out there that shows that saskatoons have some very strong functional properties,” said Purdy, who operates Prairie Berries in Keeler, Sask.


“That’s why we’re going to this next step…. If a large processor comes to us and says, ‘I want to be able to have a standard protocol of so much anthocyanins or lipids in the product,’ … we know then that we should, as an industry, work with that processor and pull berries from a particular region that has a higher concentration of that.”


The SFGA is also looking to fund research and leverage grant money by adding to the list of provincial development commissions. 


The organization has applied to establish a development commission that will create a checkoff for Saskatchewan growers who produce more than 400 pounds of fruit. 


The proposed plan, now under consideration by the provincial Agri-Food Council, would establish a levy of two cents per lb. of fruit and generate an estimated $98,000 per year at current production levels from the province’s small group of growers. 


The SFGA spearheaded the initiative following a unanimous vote at its annual meeting in 2008.


“(There) are typical lone wolf producers, who for some reason would rather go it alone in terms of industry development,” said Mel Annand, the SFGA’s past-president and a current director. 


“That’s inevitable in any production system. I think you will have those producers who are not interested in working co-operatively with other producers.”


A challenge to the proposed commission is the lack of information from individual producers. It needs to know not just how many acres are in production but how much revenue is being generated. 


Annand said the information is easier to track and record through a commission.


“It helps the industry as a whole, in our view, because with detailed knowledge of production, better planning can be undertaken for how the industry might develop.”

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