California blueberries start early

05/09/2014 11:54:00 AM
Mike Hornick

California blueberry production could climb again this year, aided by warm weather that started the deal about three weeks earlier than normal.

But the crop, which peaks April through June, may run into trouble in the Central Valley. The bulk of it is grown there, but the region has been in the grip of drought.

The state totaled 53.9 million pounds of blueberries last year, sharply up from about 48 million in 2012.

“We probably anticipate a higher crop, but our biggest concern is just having enough water to keep the plants fed,” said Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Blueberry Commission.

In places like Fresno, Visalia and Arvin, growers’ ability to go forward is uncertain.

“It depends on which irrigation district you’re in or what side you’re located on,” Ott said. “If you’re on federal water, you’re in trouble. There’s zero federal allocation now.”

“The chatter is that if they’re losing their normal allocation of water, they’ll start being selective about which crops and areas they’re going to farm,” he said. “Whatever you grow, if you have 100 acres and only enough water for 80, you’ll be selective about which 20 you let go.”

California strawberry shipments were expected to average 7 million or more trays per week in May.

Prime months

Cindy Jewell, director of marketing at Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms Inc., said retailers can bank on berries over the next couple of months.

“The industry as a whole is ahead on volume just because of the mild winter,” she said.

“But May and June are definitely prime months because Santa Maria and Watsonville-Salinas are peaking at the same time. That’s when we’re really working with our retail partners to make sure we’ve got promotions in place and big display space allocated to gear up for it.”



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