Two California-based groups this week are holding a joint virtual conference and expo. The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and the North American Blueberry Council kicked off the four-day event on Monday.
Kasey Cronquist is president of the North American Blueberry Council
“Typically we would see 200-250 people join us for our in person meetings. This week we have had just about 1,000 people register to engage. That is just incredible,” Cronquist said.
Cronquist says the organizations viewed the inability to meet in person as an opportunity to bring the entire blueberry industry together.
“To kick off this four days of just thinking about the future ahead and inspiring possibilities, the timing couldn’t be better for this discussion. We felt like in unprecedented times for our countries, our communities, and our industry, this really just feels like an important opportunity to talk about vision,” she noted.
The event kicked off on Monday with leadership expert who literally wrote the book on vision, Mr. Michael Hyatt.
“I consider myself a blueberry enthusiast. So I have them almost every day. It’s one of the three fruits that are allowable under the keto diet. I’m just delighted to be with you. Anything I can do to help blueberry growers – awesome,” said Hyatt.
Naturipe Farms is a brand most Americans have seen in the supermarket. What many may not realize is that the company is actually owned by growers. California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh recently spoke to Jill Overdorf, who is Naturipe’s Director of Business Development for Food Service & their Corporate Chef.
“Producing fresh berries since 1917, Naturipe Farms is unique to the produce industry with a partnership between four highly esteemed berry growers: Naturipe Berry Growers, MBG Marketing(Michigan Blueberry Growers), Hortifrut, and Munger Companies,” said Orverdorf.
Overdorff said Naturipe is the leading grower of blueberries in the world, second in strawberries, and also produce raspberries, blackberries, avocados, and cranberries.
“Our strawberry growers had a very challenging year, but they developed some great crops,” noted Overdorff. “We also have a good breeding program. Our blueberry growers, the Mungers, are the largest growers of blueberries in California. They had a phenomenal year, and they are branching out and are enormously innovative. They’re leading our value added program with their proprietary wash process, which enables 21 days on a fresh blueberry shelf life for a snack product,” explained Overdorff.
“Our blackberries and raspberries, we have a number of proprietary varieties, including the Centennial Raspberry and the Madeline Blackberry, both flavorful and non traditional berries because of their load seed count and they’re delicious flavor,” she said.
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.
Tree Fruits and Hybrids Are Bountiful and Delicious This Season
By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor
Tree fruits this year for Daniel Jackson, a seventh-generation farmer and partner, Reedley-based Family Tree Farms, are thriving and delicious. “The quality is just exceptional right now,” Jackson said. “I think the industry is taking a little bit of a lull in volume right now for the last two days, but it looks like it’s going to pick up again. The fruit coming off late season is going to be exceptional from an eating quality standpoint,” he indicated.
Family Tree grows various tree fruit hybrids, as well as blueberries and grapes—everything from plumquats (a hybrid between an apricot and a plum) and apriums (a similar hybrid that is more apricot than plum) to fresh white peaches and nectarines, yellow flesh peaches and nectarines, and apricots.
Although hot weather can be challenging to growers, trees in the Central Valley have evolved to adapt to the heat. “Tree fruit genetics here in the Valley are used to that heat,” Jackson elaborated. “Other than a mid-season apricot that may get some tip burn, we’re not seeing too much damage,” he explained. “We may see some sunburn here and there; but for the most part, as long as you have a good leaf ratio on your tree, everything seems to be looking good. We’re happy with the way things are turning out.”
Jackson also reported some minor labor shortages, but their numbers are staying pretty strong. “It was short early on; now we’re pretty stout,” he commented. “I think our crews are up 25 guys, which is a good full crew. We may run into some challenges as we enter the table grape season, but right now things are looking good. We’re staying positive.”
Family Tree Farms has an optimistic attitude about their labor crews. “We just want to be able to provide a consistency of work out there so that people are happy and can stick around with us. I think most farmers are trying to do that same thing,” he said.
Springtime, this year, gave them an early bloom but a cool and mild spring, conditions that can impact the size of produce, come harvest season. “I don’t think we gathered enough heat units to grab the size that we typically have,” Jackson explained, “but I think we’re catching up now. A lot of times, that’s what happens in a season; the size may be a little bit off [early on], but it catches up and becomes more of a normal year,” he said, and other growers have experienced the same problem with their commodities,
“We were probably about a half size to a size off early on in the season, but are seeing sizing come back a little bit and we’re happy about that,” Jackson described. He attributed this impact on fruit size experienced by most California fruit growers, “because we lost a couple of early season growing days that are so important in the early-season varieties.”
The Family Tree crew remains positive; they take pride in the exceptional color of their fruit and picking has stayed consistent. “I think color has been one of the best years we’ve had. Especially with plumcot varieties, we see the ripening happening a little bit more evenly, so are able to pick more consistently as well.”
Jackson handles the fluctuating challenges in farming with stride. “There are a lot of positive things going on,” he commented. “There will always be challenges every year but we don’t let those slow us down. Farmers are more resilient than that.”
Celebrate Independence Day with Native Blueberries
By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor
As we celebrate 240 years of America’s independence, we look forward to indulging in festive red, white and blue foods. One of the best ways to incorporate blue in our holiday spread is to serve plenty of California blueberries.
Mark Villata, executive director of Folsom, California-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, explained California is an important blueberry production state as, “It is among the top five producers, nationally. We produce [blueberries] in about 38 states nationally, but nine states account for about 98 percent of our total production, and California is in that top five,” he said.
“Last year, California produced about 62 million pounds of blueberries,” Villata said; “this year’s crop looks like it could be close to 70 million pounds. Total yield has been increasing each year as new plantings come into maturity and start to produce blueberries.”
California is an important player in the berry market, and blueberries are one of the healthiest fruits consumers can eat. “Of course we’re lucky here in California to have a crop that is so readily available that is also incredibly healthy for us all,” Villata noted.
And blueberries are almost the perfect crop for celebrating the Fourth of July because they are native to the region. “Blueberries play well into any Fourth of July barbecue,” said Villata. “Blueberries are so diverse, they can be incorporated in salads, smoothies, breakfasts, desserts, and more. “We bring blue to the red, white and blue festivities,” he declared.
The California Grape & Tree Fruit League announces it has officially changed its name to the California Fresh Fruit Association – an identity its members believe better defines the broad types of commodities it represents.
The California Fresh Fruit Association will formally present its new name to executive and legislative officials in Sacramento, CA during its Annual Fruit Delivery on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. And to celebrate this important milestone, an evening reception will follow with government officials and California Fresh Fruit Association members at Esquire Grill (1213 K St., Sacramento, CA) from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The membership-based organization is one of the oldest agricultural trade associations in California, dating back to1921 with the California Growers and Shippers Protective League and in 1936, with the California Grape Growers and Shippers Association. Together, these organizations merged into the California Grape & Tree Fruit League. Today marks another momentous occasion, as the association has become the California Fresh Fruit Association and continues to represent its members in all aspects of public policy.
The Association’s Strategic Planning Committee presented the possibility of a name change in 2013 upon the completion of its five-year strategic plan. Members were approached by the Board of Directors to consider a new name that would encompass more of the commodities it represents, such as fresh grapes, blueberries and deciduous tree fruits including: peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, pears, apples, cherries, figs, kiwis, pomegranates and persimmons. In summary, the Association represents the state’s permanent fresh fruit crops with the exception of citrus and avocados.
With support from the Board of Directors and the organization’s nearly 350 members, the California Fresh Fruit Association proceeds with business as usual under its new name, advocating for fresh fruit growers, shippers and marketers in Sacramento, CA and Washington, D.C. The California Fresh Fruit Association’s headquarters will remain in Fresno, CA.
“While undergoing a name change is no easy task, little has changed as we’ve made sure to continue with our responsibilities as usual,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. “As we began the process, we wanted to proceed with a name that accurately represents our members and the commodities they provide. We couldn’t be happier with our selection – California Fresh Fruit Association is exactly who we are and what we represent.”
About California Fresh Fruit Association
The California Fresh Fruit Association is the advocate for its members on a daily basis, which is made possible through the voluntary support of growers, shippers, marketers and associate members. The organization was created in 1936, mainly to negotiate railroad rates for shippers, and has since evolved into filling the industry’s need for public policy representation. Visit www.cafreshfruit.com or call (559) 226-6330 to learn more.