Earlier harvesting opens Southeast blueberry season - The Packer

Earlier harvesting opens Southeast blueberry season

03/01/2013 04:38:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

An expected early start marks the beginning of this year’s domestic blueberries.

Harvesting in Florida, which brings the first fresh U.S. berries of the season, could be as much as three weeks earlier than normal, grower-shipper say.

“There could be a very good crop from Florida in terms of volume,” Brian Bocock, the Grand Junction, Mich.-based vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said in mid-February.

“As of now, all the conditions have been favorable toward a quality crop and a potentially large crop.”

Florida growers planned to begin harvesting small volumes in late February, considerably earlier than the normal early- to mid-March start.

“The berries look really good,” JC Clinard, senior vice president of Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla., said in mid-February.

“If we don’t have any freeze between now and the time of harvest, we should be OK.”

After Florida begins, Georgia typically enters the deal in late April and North Carolina starts in mid-May.

While California production usually begins in late March, the Golden State doesn’t normally peak until mid-May, with heavy volume running through mid-June, Bocock said.

“California is the only other state producing and remains a long ways from Eastern markets, so the Southeast fills an important void when we don’t have imported product coming in,” he said.

“The Southeast becomes a perfect fit for additional promotions to get to the end of June and July for retailers in the Southeast that like to promote local.”

As Florida typically finishes by Memorial Day, Georgia and North Carolina usually run through mid-July and overlap New Jersey’s mid-June start.

“The Southeast is an important growth area,” said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif. “They kick off the season and get people to think about blueberries. People are starting to consume blueberries a little earlier than they may have in the past.”

At 136 million pounds, the major producing states in the Southeast — Florida, Georgia and North Carolina — accounted for about 25% of overall U.S. and Canadian 2012 highbush blueberry production and 27% of the deal’s fresh production, according to the council.

Villata said he expects 2013 to bring another record year of U.S. and Canadian production and exceed 2012’s 559 million pounds.

By 2015, Villata said he could see the U.S. and Canada producing up to 735 million pounds, an expected 27% increase.

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