Sea buckthorn berries are brimming with vitamins, along with high levels of beta carotene, omega-3 oils, and flavonoids. The fruit can be found in a range of food and skin care products in health food stores. The plant is drought hardy and resistant to diseases and pests, making it a tempting option for fruit growers or other crop producers looking to diversify their farm income.
However, sea buckthorn berries cluster tightly against the stem, making them extremely difficult to hand-pick and impossible to harvest mechanically. Numerous thorns also complicate the process.
“It’s like a cob of corn. Trying to get each piece off individually is very difficult,” explains Betty Forbes of Northern Vigour Berries. Growers must cut the branches and freeze them to remove the berries, a labour-intensive process that drives up costs.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers recently announced that they will be releasing a new variety of sea buckthorn this year that can be hand-picked or mechanically harvested. AC-Autumn Gold is nearly thornless, and the berries are on long stalks, making them easier to harvest. The berries are also twice as large as other varieties.
Forbes is glad to see new varieties and thinks automation will be better for the entire industry. “There still is that problem of the existing crops. I guess my goal is to definitely help all the people who have already planted. Of course, we have to look to the future and putting in new varieties, but I think we have to work with both.”
Kathie Fedora, spokesperson for the Manitoba Seabuckthorn Growers Association, hasn’t had a chance to evaluate the new variety, but she is cautiously optimistic. “If this new variety still retains the resilience of the old variety, but adds in a far more favourable harvest condition, we would have a winner.” †