New Jersey blueberry producers keep pace with rising demand

05/27/2009 09:16:17 AM
Abraham Mahshie

With consumer awareness building for the health benefits of blueberries, New Jersey has steadily increased acreage and volume to keep up with demand. This year, a favorable winter and adequate moisture should result in a strong crop.

Bob Von Rohr, director of marketing and customer relations for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., said the blueberry season in New Jersey starts in mid-June and lasts until the end of July or the beginning of August.

“The bushes are basically in bloom,” he said in May. “They’ve had a good winter, plenty of moisture (and) we are anticipating a very good crop.”

Tim Wetherbee, sales manager for Diamond Blueberry Inc., Hammonton, N.J., agreed moisture has been “not too extreme, but consistent,” which he said is better than a high concentration of precipitation in a short window.

Wetherbee, who has roughly 900 acres of blueberry bushes, said he has about the same acreage as last year and expects production to be similar as long as no weather irregularities, such as hail, arise.

He said he is particularly surprised by the growing knowledge of consumers.

“I think a lot of people are aware of the health benefits of blueberries,” he said. “People buy it from me and they’ve read articles that I haven’t heard of. The consumer is very health-oriented on all fruit and vegetables. It’s been a plus for the industry.”

Paul Ordille, co-manager for the South Jersey Produce Co-op Association Inc., Vineland, N.J., said there has also been more marketing attention to blueberries, but since volume and demand are growing concurrently, prices have remained relatively consistent.

“There may be more demand for blueberries, but growers are keeping a better supply of them, too,” he said.

Wetherbee said the duke variety has almost entirely replaced weymouth as the primary variety in the state.

“It has a great yield and it comes pretty consistent: early in, a big berry comparable to the blue crop variety,” he said. “But now with the duke variety, we can get enough volume and acreage to initiate sales, and then with the blue crop around July 4 and then later on the elliott variety.”

Wetherbee said the blue crop has the size and aesthetic appeal U.S. consumers are looking for.

“They are good berries, they do have good taste,” he said. “By the same token, they have the appearance that attracts the customer.”

Wetherbee said even though there is a following of regular, yearly buyers, it never hurts to get the message out that the season is approaching, especially to inform younger consumers.


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