Blueberry demand calls for more acres

07/22/2010 02:22:53 PM
Susie Cable

To keep up with demand, blueberry growers are putting in more acres and coaxing more blueberries from existing plants.

Overall, this summer’s U.S. blueberry crop is expected to be similar to last year’s, said Mark Villata, executive director for the North American Blueberry Council and for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif.

But some individual grower-shippers said they expect bigger volumes.

Growers for Michigan Summer Blueberries Inc., Bangor, Mich., are expected to pack about 3 million pounds of fresh blueberries this season, said George Fritz, president and sales manager. That’s about 400,000 pounds more than last year.

In early July, growers in southern Michigan were harvesting their second pick of blueberries, Fritz said. Harvest started June 20, which was a week to 10 days earlier than normal. The crop had advanced quickly during the mild winter weather.

Fritz said crop quality and demand were good in early July. Volume was light, possibly because the region had a frost and cold weather in early May during pollination.

“It’s unusual that we’ll have a frost that hurts the blueberries,” Fritz said.

Typically, Michigan Summer growers harvest blueberries in the southern region into early September, but Fritz said he wouldn’t be surprised if this crop was done by Aug. 20.

Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., shipped blueberries from Michigan in early July and the supply was expected to continue into early September.

Douglas Ronan, vice president of marketing, said this is the first season Driscoll’s has established a relationship with a grower in Michigan. He said he expects the partnership to increase its supply for Midwest customers.

Driscoll’s also ships blueberries from New Jersey, where supplies are expected to continue into September. With storage, it should continue supplying fresh blueberries through the end of September.

The company supplies western U.S. customers with blueberries from the Pacific Northwest. It recently opened new cooling and packing facilities in partnership with two growers in Grandview, Wash., Ronan said.

Oregon blues
The blueberry crop in Oregon got started about a week late, but by early July, production was gathering steam, said Doug Perkins, sales director, Hurst’s Berry Farm Inc., Sheridan, Ore. He said it looked like the early-variety duke crop would not have its typical sharp peak in volume, but volumes would instead be spread throughout the harvest period.

Hurst’s is marketing 4.4-, 6- and 11-ounce packs of Grande Blues, packed with blueberries that measure 18 millimeters and larger. About two years ago, the company identified certain varieties that produced larger berries and began packing them separately and marketing them as Grande Blues, Perkins said.


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