China money, market spur Canadian blueberry deluge

Thu Aug 4, 2016 1:04am EDT
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By Julie Gordon

RICHMOND, British Columbia, August 4 (Reuters) - An aging mansion sits vacant on an estate outside Vancouver, the garage overtaken by a blueberry sorter and a walk-in cooler packed with the fruit.

The owner, an investor from mainland China, leases the estate to Fred Liu at such a bargain the farmer grows blueberries in its fields even though the bottom has fallen out of the market.

As it turns out, the same wave of Chinese wealth that has fueled real estate booms in cities like New York, Sydney and San Francisco and stoked the art market worldwide also has contributed to an unexpected glut of blueberries.

Chinese investors riding a hot property market along the Pacific Coast have socked millions into a belt of protected farmland around Vancouver, long a destination for Asian immigrants, and many have taken advantage of Canadian agricultural tax breaks, agents and farmers said.

Because much of the land is restricted to farming, rents have remained stubbornly low. Veteran farmers and entrepreneurial newcomers have snapped up the cheap leases, eager to cash in on the blueberry's ascent as a super food and the promise that a trade deal with China would open the world’s second-largest economy to fresh Canadian exports.

But demand has yet to meet bullish projections. Delayed trade negotiations and a surge in global blueberry production have prevented China's rising middle class from eating enough of the British Columbia bumper crop that Chinese investors helped sow.

The result: a bubble for Vancouver area farmland and a bust for berries.

Prices for rural property near Vancouver have surged – hitting, in one recent deal, 230 times the per-acre average for Canadian farmland. And blueberry prices have collapsed, dropping to less than C$1 per pound at peak season, half what some growers said they were getting a few years ago.   Continued...

A blueberry picker picks fruit at Lohas Farms in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada on July 3, 2016.  REUTERS/Julie Gordon