National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

“Baseball been berry, berry good to me,” is the line from the fictional ex-baseball player Chico Escuela in a memorable Saturday Night Live skit from 1978.

If Chico went on to grow berries in Mexico or the Dominican, today he would be rightly saying, “Berries have been berry, berry good to me.”

Calling it “Berry Sector's Growth Has Important Consequences for the Campo,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service has just published a report on berry production in Mexico.

The focus of the berry sector in Mexico has shifted from strawberries for processing to a fresh market focus and cultivation of the latest varieties of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, according to the report.

The report reveals that combined exports (mostly to the U.S.) of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries will reach $ 1 billion within five years. That would rank near the top of Mexican fruit and vegetable exports to the U.S.; tomatoes ($1.7 billion), avocados ($893 million) and sugar ($822 million), and peppers ($789 million).

The USDA FAS paper noted that blueberry production has grown from 280 metric tons in 2004 to 6,704 metric tons in 2011, with raspberry output soaring form 3,045 metric tons in 2004 to 21,408 metric tons in 2011. Strawberry output has grown from 177,230 metric tons in 2004 to nearly 229,000 metric tons in 2001. Blackberry output in Mexico has multiplied from 26,697 metric tons in 2004 to more than 135,000 metric tons in 2011.

The trendline continues to point up. USDA statistics on season to date U.S. imports of Mexican berries through March 30 show blueberries are up 33% compared with the same time last year, raspberries 18% above a year ago and strawberry imports 45% higher.

Protected agriculture (shade house technology), the report said, is largely responsible for the production growth in the berry sector. Although acreage of strawberries has fallen somewhat since 2000, the migration of production from open field to protected agriculture has resulted in a 65% gain in strawberry production, according to the report. Protected agriculture accounts for 50% of strawberry production, 90% of raspberries, 40% of blackberries and 50% of blueberries grown in Mexico.

One of the interesting aspects of the report is an examination of the implications of rise of berry production for the Mexican countryside, giving needed job opportunities and providing relatively small-scale growers a chance to earn a living. What’s more, the expansion of berry exports has eased the pressure to migrate to the U.S. for economic opportunity.