Blueberry Production in California
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
California blueberries are harvested from more than 5,000 acres in the state, but it took quite a bit of work in the early 1990s to make the crop viable for the area.
“We took a lot of varieties that had been developed for the early season low-chill areas of the southeast, and then we had to modify the pH of the soil and water, which was important. They were also finicky with heavy soils and would not tolerate drought,” said Mark Gaskell, a UCANR Cooperative Extension Small Farm and Specialty Crop Advisor for San Luis Obispo County who was very involved in establishing the early blueberry industry in California.
“We had to come up with a growing regime, and that took a few years, but there was enough success in the early years and the crop price would be at transitional periods between the northern and southern hemisphere,” Gaskell explained. “This is because, historically, most of the blueberries were grown in relatively few states and started being harvested in April and went to maybe October or September. And then it all shifted to the Southern hemisphere.”
At the time of a shift in the production area, there is a huge price incentive. And California growers filled that in.
“Soon, there was a lot of interest in producing for the fresh markets and as a result of having more blueberries in the market, more of a year, consumption has gone up,” Gaskell said. “At the same time, blueberries had become a super food for health.”
Other specialty small food crops are diversifying growers’ fields after the great success of introducing blueberries as a profitable crop.
“Much of the same kinds of things had been happening with other specialties, small fruit crops,” Gaskell explained. “California used to be primarily a strawberry-producing state. And many of those strawberry growers now have diversified in a wide range of other berries. And so those raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries have all increased in acreage and value.”
More information on California Blueberries can be found here.