Wish FarmsBlueberries ripen at Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla. Production in the Southeast continues to grow, shipping from March through July. Florida and Georgia are set to begin their spring production on time.
Florida typically begins harvesting in mid- to late March while Georgia usually starts by late April.
Georgia’s late-season and North Carolina typically help transition southeastern production to northern producing regions.
As the first U.S. production region to ship fresh blueberries, Florida growers say the state is poised for another great season.
Despite some early concerns about the cold, grower-shippers expect the Sunshine State to begin shipping in mid-March as usual.
Initially, because of the January cold, growers expected an earlier-than-normal crop, but the freezes north, central and south Florida received in January helped bush growth.
Instead, the freezing temperatures helped slow production, said Bill Braswell, owner of the Auburndale, Fla.-based Polkdale Farms and Juliana Plantation and farm manager of Bartow, Fla.-based Clear Springs Packing LLC.
He said growers remain optimistic.
“The way the stars are lining up for this season, the growers are pretty optimistic,” he said in mid-February. “Aside from having a good crop, the labor situation isn’t really an issue this year. All of our needs to pull off a good harvest seem to be in place.”
Florida expects to produce up to 25 million pounds this season, higher than the 21.5 million it produced last season, according to growers and industry estimates.
Braswell characterized last season as a dud.
He said grower-shippers came up short as there weren’t enough berries to fill demand in late April.
While many growers harvested the pounds they expected, the season didn’t really bring a peak and ran longer than normal, ending at Memorial Day, said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
Though he couldn’t quantify any increase, Koukoulis said the state expects this season to bring increased acreage.
“On the farms I’ve been to, including our own, quality looks very good,” he said in mid-February. “Everything has fared well with the recent cold.”
Stacy Spivey, North American berry program director for Miami-based Alpine Fresh, said the cold mornings the fruit experienced didn’t harm production.
“We are looking to see a few more freezes before we actually start production but if we can make it through that, Florida should have decent production this year,” he said mid-February.
South, central and north Florida production typically finish shipments by early to mid-May.
Georgia is pegged to start harvesting in mid-April on its southern highbush crop with peak production expected during the first 10 days of May, said Brian Bocock, the Grand Junction, Mich.-based vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC in Salinas, Calif.
The state’s second crop, the rabbiteye, usually starts in late May and harvests through early July.
“The southern highbush crop looks good,” Bocock said in mid-February. “The rabbiteyes now look good. We anticipate some production to start the last week of May but the traditional rabbiteye peak still looks to be normal timing, from June 5-20.”
Bocock said the transition from Florida to Georgia normally works well.
The freezing weather that hit Georgia and the Southeast in January and early February caused a 10% to 15% loss of early production, said Alpine’s Spivey.
“We had some really cold conditions,” he said in mid-February. “We probably lost the first few stages of some of our earlier varieties, but that could in turn help us on those varieties with better sizings because the bushes won’t be as loaded. We should get our highbush peak by mid-May.”
In mid-February, the bushes were beginning to bloom a little, said Joe Cornelius, president of Manor, Ga.-based J&B Blueberry Farms Inc., and chairman of the Atlanta-based Agricultural Commodity Commission on Blueberries.
“Things are looking very good,” he said in mid-February. “We have a lot of weather to go through to get there, but everything looks good so far. We have the potential for another record crop.”
The Tar Heel State’s growers typically begin harvesting in mid-May with production peaking around Memorial Day.
Shipments usually run through mid-July.
Acreage has increased in the region and growers are expecting a strong season, Bocock said.
He said the transition from Georgia and North Carolina to New Jersey and Michigan usually works well but can become “dicey.”
The southern growing regions typically finish in early and mid-July.
“It’s a time period where you really have to plan and work things out with our retail partners and set up promotions accordingly to move the volumes of fruit we need,” Bocock said.
Last year’s transition went well, primarily because heavy late-season rains halted Georgia’s late-season production, he said.
Those rains made the season difficult for growers, said Julie Woodcock, executive director of the North Carolina Blueberry Council Inc., Atkinson.
She said the losses didn’t become as destructive as growers had feared.