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.