A wetter spring appears to have boosted this year’s huckleberry crop, according to local buyers who are breathing a sigh of relief after last year’s dismal, drought-stricken harvest.
“Last year was a disaster,” said Peggy Atchley, an employee at Eva Gates Homemade Preserves in Bigfork. “We’ve gotten a couple good-sized batches of berries. ... I think we’ll have a pretty good late season as long as we get a day or two of moisture.”
The family-owned jam and preserve company recently has been getting most of its berries from the Libby area, she added, as the berry-producing areas around the Flathead started ripening earlier than usual and are already beginning to transition to the middle elevations, where the popular fruit still is green.
Last year’s shortage predictably drove up the prices paid by huckleberry processors, but while the per-pound cost for the raw ingredient has dropped this summer, Atchley said they’re still paying “premium prices.”
“I think part of it is that there’s so many additional people using huckleberries in their products, so there’s a lot more competition for the huckleberries that are out there,” she said, adding that some summer rain could push down prices by boosting expectations for a late-season harvest.
“Hopefully they’re going to go down a little bit if Mother Nature smiles on us.”
Edward Springman, one of the owners of Huckleberry Haven in Kalispell, said high early-season prices could be the result of speculation by buyers worried about a repeat of 2015.
“The huckleberry market is very difficult, because there’s different aspects on it,” he said. “There’s demand for fresh product and demand for frozen product for someone that’s going to do something in production. ... There’s a lot of variance in there and there’s a lot of logistics.”
Overall, he also said the prices he’s been paying aren’t as astronomical as they were last year, and the berry sizes and overall volume are much closer to the norm.
“It’s kind of hard to compare ‘better than average,’ ‘less than average’ or however else. We’ve still got six or eight weeks of the season to go,” Springman said. “Everybody I’ve talked to ... the bushes seem to have berries on them that look better than normal, and it’s come in earlier than usual this year.”
Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.