The Southeast U.S. blueberry crop is looking good.
In Georgia, growers are looking for a strong rebound after a frost cut production short last year. A late freeze knocked total production below 30 million pounds, about one third of the 2014 output.
The North American Blueberry Council estimated fresh blueberry output in 2017 from Southern states (Florida, Georgia and North Carolina primarily) was 66.3 million pounds, or about 17% of the 400 million-pound North American fresh blueberry crop.
That compares with fresh output of 99.4 million pounds of blueberries from Southern states in 2016, according to the council, when the region accounted for 25% of 383 million pounds of North American fresh blueberry output.
This year growers expect blueberry output to be up, though no trade or government estimates had been released as of mid-February.
“Crop potential is big, as good as we have had in years,” said Joe Cornelius, president of J&B Blueberry Farms Inc., Manor, Ga.
He said there’s an industry effort to create a voluntary estimating group that would be comprised of growers from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina to allow the industry to better know and communicate what kind of volume might be available for retail promotion.
While mid-February was too early to rule out weather events, the blueberry crops in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina looked good, said Brian Bocock, vice president of sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif.
Last year’s freeze significantly hurt Georgia and also nicked Florida production a little, Bocock said.
“If things continue like they are and we don’t have any freeze, it will be significantly more production this year out of Florida and Georgia than there was last year for the whole industry,” he said in mid-February.
Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, said Florida blueberries benefited from plenty of chill hours this year, ranging from 40-60 hours in Arcadia and 200-300 hours in central Florida to 300-400 hours in Gainesville.
The harvest timing for Florida blueberries should be normal, with good volume expected from April 9 to the first week of May, Bocock said.
Georgia production will have two peaks, with the southern highbush blueberry peak from April 30 to May 15, and rabbiteye blueberry volume peaking from June 11-25.
North Carolina’s blueberry timing also looks normal, with the peak expected from to start about May 27 and continuing into June.
In 2016, the USDA
reported Florida accounted for 30% of U.S. combined domestic and import blueberry volume in April and 11% in May.
Georgia accounted for 12% of total blueberry volume in April, 31% in May and 23% in June.
North Carolina represented 20% of total blueberry volume in May, 19% in June and 3% in July.
Last year, prices for Florida conventional blueberries were reported as $45 a flat on April 8, settling at $12-20 per flat in late April, then rising to $17-23 per flat on May 20, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Prices for organic berries were reported at $36-43 per flat on April 1, settling at $22-26 per flat on May 20.
Georgia f.o.b. prices for conventional blueberries were quoted at $24-32 per flat of 12 1-pint containers on April 22 last year, trading at $28-34 per flat on May 20 and $18-20 per flat at season’s end in mid-June.
In North Carolina last year, the USDA reported prices of $32-35 per flat of conventional blueberries in 12 1-pint packages on May 20, dropping to $18-22 by June 10 and rising to $20-22 per flat at the deal’s end in mid-July.
With increasing volume likely in coming years, some Southeast marketers say they see a trend toward the 1-pound clamshell.
“I think the industry needs to take a hard look at replacing the pint with something like a 1-pound clamshell at the peak of the deal,” Bocock said.
He said blueberry volumes are getting to the point where retailers and growers would benefit from a larger pack size.
“I think the 1-pound is the next natural progression we need to go to,” Bocock said.