Late start but strong volume for blueberries

07/21/2011 11:11:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

The blueberry crop got off to a late start in Michigan and on the West Coast this season, but grower-shippers say quality should be good and there should be plenty of blueberries to promote.

On July 7, 12 1-pint cups of medium-large blueberries were selling for $15.50-16, compared with $12 a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Picking started a week to 10 days later than usual in Michigan, said Dave Trinka, director of research for MBG Marketing, Grand Junction. Peak for the mid-season varieties should be in late July, compared with mid-July most years.

“We had a much cooler temperature pattern during the spring and early summer,” Trinka said, but normal temperatures were returning by the first week of July.

Although volume was off slightly compared to 2010 for the mid-season berries, Trinka was optimistic that late-season supplies would help volume catch up.

The number of berries on the bushes was down compared with last year because of cooler weather, but acreage is up this year and larger bushes will be coming to age in August and September, so fresh volume could equal last year’s, he said.

Michigan fresh blueberry shipments usually wind down in late September, but they should continue until the first week of October this year, Trinka said.

In Bangor, Michigan Summer Blueberries Inc. started harvesting the first week of July, said George Fritz, president and general manager.

Early season quality was good, he said, especially on the bluetta and duke varieties. He expected volume to be normal or a bit above normal.

The crop also was delayed in Oregon, said Brian Ostlund, executive director of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, Salem. But he said the crop seems to catch up during the summer, even if it gets off to a late start.

Early quality and color looked good, he said.

The state ships blueberries from July to early September, with late varieties going into early October, he said.

Oregon Berry Packing Co., Hillsboro, expects increased blueberry volume this year because the newest varieties — draper, liberty and aurora — have better flavor, firmness and shelf life than the older ones, said Brian Malensky, vice president of domestic sales.

“They just eat better,” he said, and that should boost demand.

The company started harvesting July 10, the latest start date Malensky has seen in 16 years. The firm usually starts picking around June 24.

“Quality looks excellent,” he said, and cool weather should bring on large sizes.

Industrywide, preliminary estimates from the North American Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif., indicates that growers in the U.S. and British Columbia will produce 523 million pounds of blueberries this year — 320 million pounds of fresh and 203 million pounds of processed. Last year, growers produced 489 million pounds, 296 million pounds of fresh and 193 million pounds of processed.

“We’re seeing continued strength in fresh demand,” said Mark Villata, executive director,

U.S. per capita consumption of blueberries is 33.7 ounces — 17.8 ounces for fresh and 15.9 ounces for processed — he said. Five years ago, fresh consumption was about 20 ounces and processed was 12.8 ounces.

Adding to demand is increased interest in U.S. blueberries from Asian markets. The U.S. currently is working to develop a protocol for exporting fresh blueberries to South Korea, where demand for frozen berries already is impressive, Villata said.



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