Blueberry Harvest Wraps Up

By Tim Hammerich with the Ag Information Network 

California has wrapped up blueberry harvest in the state. Growers were expecting a record crop but COVID-19 and weather issues created some challenges. Here’s the California Blueberry Commission’s Todd Sanders.

“Overall, we were expecting a record crop of over 77 million pounds due to COVID and weather related issues and stuff like that, I don’t think we’re going to come in nearly that high. But we’re going to come in pretty close. I think it will be probably around 65 to 68 million pounds, will be our final number,” said Sanders.

“That’s fresh and processed. But this season was difficult. Our season was right in the middle of the pandemic as we’re still kind of going through it as we speak. But we were right in the middle of the lockdown, there was trouble moving fruit, especially when it comes to exports. That’s 20% of our product is export and it was difficult to export anything. So it was a difficult season, but the growers I think did pretty well. But we’ll have to see when the final numbers come back,” said Sanders.

Sanders said the majority of the blueberry harvest has moved north up to Oregon and Washington. He provided that report as part of the blueberry industry’s new weekly podcast called “The Business of Blueberries”.

California Blueberry Growers Fit a Profitable Gap

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.

Red, White and California Blueberries

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, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Mark Villata, executive director, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

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.

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Blueberry Infographic on Nutrition, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council