GRAND JUNCTION, Mich. — Michigan blueberries are running ahead of schedule this year, but not quite as far ahead as growers thought in May.
A warm spring got the blueberry bushes budding early, but a cool May stunted their growth and got them closer to normal timing, said Frank Bragg, chief executive officer of MBG Marketing.
“Things, as usual, keep changing as the weather changes,” Bragg said. “We’re still tracking about a week earlier than normal in Michigan and Indiana.”
Up until mid-May it was looking like the state would beat last year’s volume of 100 million pounds, 53 million of which went to the fresh market, but Bragg said as of late the state is tracking toward a slightly smaller crop.
“We just started to receive some more heavy rainfall, which was needed,” Bragg said in early June. “We were looking colder and drier, and some were getting a little concerned.”
Berries coming from Michigan might be a bit smaller than last year’s, Bragg said.
Bragg expects Michigan growers to start harvesting around July 4. For the first time this year, July will not be the highest blueberry consumption month for the U.S., as June has taken over, Bragg said.
“This is a first,” Bragg said on June 2. “It’s because of growth in Georgia, California, North Carolina, and then New Jersey. They’re going to start harvesting this weekend.”
California, which didn’t even exist as a blueberry industry seven years ago, should have 30 million pounds this year, and 60 million pounds when its existing bushes are at maturity.
Georgia is projected to double its crop of 32 million pounds last year, and North Carolina is up to almost 40 million pounds, from 30 million last year, Bragg said.
“The combination of primarily Georgia and Florida creates a peak in our fresh sales we have not seen before,” Bragg said.
The nation is projected to produce about 300 million pounds of fresh blueberries this year, along with another 130 imported from Mexico. Consumer demand seems to have stuck right with availability, so consumption has increased with increased production, Bragg said.
“Michigan is a mature area, but it’s growing as well, well the replacement of older acreage with new, (higher producing) acreage,” Bragg said.
Bragg said MBG Marketing and its partners, Naturipe Farms and Hortifruit, are doing cross-promotions with other grocery store items, including yogurt and Rubbermaid storage containers.
Across the country, blueberries are selling in larger containers, Bragg said. Typically, Florida ships in 4-ounce containers, but this is the first season the state has packed a majority of its berries in pints, Bragg said.
“We’re seeing club packs increase in size, as well,” Bragg said. “We’re seeing 2-pounders replace 18-ounce, passing on better value, better price points for the consumer.”
Despite a poor economy, the blueberry industry saw record sales last year, so Bragg is optimistic about what this year has in store.