Marc Bieler, the king of atoca

Marc Bieler, le roi de l'atoca

The king of atoca

“The fruit never falls far from the tree.” This proverb perfectly suits Marc Bieler, the largest cranberry producer in Canada and one of the largest in the world. To be honest, the St. Louis guy from Blandford is proving to be a valuable seed from three well-rooted strains.

It was first in Switzerland, on the country estate of his botanist grandfather, that he discovered agriculture. Then, like his father who was deputy minister of finance under the reign of Adélard Godbout, Marc will occupy a position at the Ministry of Agriculture in regional development. Finally, there is his significant meeting with his mentor Pierre Dansereau, the father of modern ecology who taught him as part of his master's degree in urban planning.

In 1969, holding a bachelor's degree in economics, the budding entrepreneur took root in Frelighsburg where he acquired his first orchard. He will begin processing apple juice. The rest will (almost) flow naturally. After experiencing the first effects of climate change in the form of hail, freezes and thaws, Marc decided to diversify his production. It is the cranberry, fruit of the peat bogs of cold regions, that he is eyeing for the production of juice.

What did it matter if at the time there was only one atocas producer in Quebec and the latter had to sell its entire harvest to the American giant Ocean Spray. In 1983, at the age of 45, he began growing lingonberries on land unsuitable for agriculture. The small plot at the start will become large.

After his cranberry plantation in Saint-Louis de Blandford, he developed a second one at Notre Dame de Lourdes, another in Saint-Augustin, yet another near Siracuse, in the state of New York, then a fifth in Péribonka. In total, Cranberry Bieler cultivates 1,500 laser-leveled acres. He has grown his business so well that three years ago, Ocean Spray, the powerful cooperative that brings together 800 cranberry producers, offered to buy his factory. The deal was done.

Today, Marc continues to fill his freezers with a capacity of nearly 23,000 tonnes (50 million pounds) in the middle of his peat bogs which are still home to voles, harriers, ducks, dragonflies, deer, moose and what else.

Although field development techniques have evolved significantly over the last 40 years, Marc is well aware of the environmental problems of this crop. The disciple of Pierre Dansereau really wants to promote sustainable agriculture which has nothing to do with that of corn or soya, for example. It is therefore no coincidence that he recently made a contribution of $15 million spread over 20 years to support research within the McGill School of the Environment which renamed the institution in his name .

“We now have automated irrigation and frost protection systems. Sensors are installed in fields and automatically trigger sprinkler systems when the need arises. All our data is computerized. It has become very sophisticated. In terms of pesticides, the products are much more targeted and less toxic to animals. Currently, on our premises, we have launched several research projects on new products which will be the subject of an application for approval. »

At 83, the patriarch, still dangerously in shape, has just emerged from a family reunion that he had called with his five children. If the main challenge is to maintain the company's position in its core business, other cards are on the kitchen table. The family juggles with the idea of ​​a certain diversification.

Now that the eldest, Jean-François, occupies the position of general manager of the company Dion Herbes & Épices, the largest seller in this sector in Quebec, a breakthrough in the agri-food field is seriously considered. Marc also has a lot of hope in the youngest, Florence. Holder of a baccalaureate in agronomy from McGill University, she is completing an MBA at Laval University. Dad is calling with all his best wishes for her to come back and practice her talents in the family's cranberry farms. Obviously, the Bielers have not said their last word!

Read more

Alexandre Dufour, le fier Charlevoyou
Couture & Filles, les cinq doigts de la main