Favorable blueberry season expected in Southeast

03/03/2014 11:05:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

Alpine FreshAlpine FreshThe Southeast produces high-quality blueberries, says Stacy Spivey of Alpine Fresh, Miami. This year's crop is looking good, he said. The spring is shaping up to be another strong season for southeastern blueberries.

Florida kicks off domestic production by commencing shipments in mid- to late March in its south and central growing regions before north Florida begins in mid-April, with Georgia’s first production usually starting in late April.

The region is growing in importance with retailers.

While California produces berries in April and May, the Golden State’s production doesn’t really peak until May 20 to June 20 and are shipped primarily to West Coast retailers, said Brian Bocock, the Grand Junction, Mich.-based vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif.

“The Southeast is critical,” Bocock said. “It absolutely hits a window that is needed to supply the customer base when Chile winds down in March. The Southeast fills a very needed role in filling the blueberry supply line in filling a 52-week continual supply.”

In general, this season’s southeastern production appears to be strong, he said.

The region is also growing in production.

Responsible for about half of the continent’s total and fresh fruit production, the western region, which includes all of the West Coast and blueberry behemoth British Columbia, is North America’s largest blueberry producing region.

The second-largest production region, the South, is seeing increased plantings, particularly in Georgia, and is generally responsible for producing 23% of the crop’s total and fresh production, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

“We are seeing more production out of the two regions,” said Mark Villata, executive director of the Folsom, Calif.-based organization. “They’re definitely on the rise. There is a lot of new acreage that was planted two to three years ago that’s starting to get into full bearing mode, so we are seeing increases in the West and in the South.”

Last season, Florida produced 21.5 million pounds, a 14% increase from 2012, with almost all production going fresh.

This year, Florida expects to harvest up to 25 million pounds, 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.

Florida should be in a good position to fill demand created by dwindling offshore production by the time Florida ramps up volume, he said.

That void should provide Florida berries a favorable window, Braswell said.

“The blueberries look really good and we have had nothing negative happen to the crop so far,” Braswell said in mid-February. “Everything looks good at this point.”

Braswell said he expects Florida production to peak during the second and third weeks of April, just as Georgia’s southern highbush crop ramps up.

Some harsh cold weather struck Georgia production regions, said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.

“There was some ice and snow in some locations,” he said in mid-February. “There wasn’t any significant damage. The bushes weren’t at a stage where they were flowering or anything like that, which could really hurt them.”

North Carolina typically begins production in mid-May with production peaking around Memorial Day through June 10.

Growers report acreage increasing, Bocock said.

Julie Woodcock, executive director of the North Carolina Blueberry Council Inc., in Atkinson, said the last official number the council has seen is more than 6,000 acres.

She said she knows of several farms that plan to start producing within 18 months.

At the beginning of the domestic blueberry season, the Southeast is a key part of the deal, said Stacy Spivey, North American berry program director for Alpine Fresh in Miami.

“There is a lot of high-quality fruit and nice volumes that come out of the Southeast,” he said. “The domestic season relies on the Southeast to get started on the right foot.”



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