Blueberries are a major crop in the Pacific Northwest but they have yet to make their way eastwards into Idaho, until now. A grower in Parma, Idaho, took up the challenge by a friend in Washington to grow blueberries there, fully aware of the challenges the company was to face. However, these challenges have been met rather successfully and the company, Idaho Blueberry, is now entering its second year of production.
"It all started when the owners, who are two brothers, went to a hops convention," said Caitlyn Choate of Idaho Blueberry. "They met up with a buddy from Yakima who challenged them, saying it was impossible to grow blueberries commercially in Idaho. They wanted to prove him wrong and set about growing blueberries and now Idaho Blueberry is the only commercial blueberry grower in the state."
Battling the Idaho growing environment
One of the biggest challenges was the sandy, alkaline soils found in Idaho, considerably different to the acidic soils of the Northwest the berries prefer. However, Idaho Blueberry overcame this by conditioning the soil. "Idaho soil is much more suited to growing root vegetables like potatoes and onions and it's very tough to grow blueberries here," Choate explained. "So in order to get the blueberries growing, we irrigate with drip tape and infuse acid into the soil through the irrigation."
Choate also noted the severe winters, which are another anti-berry medium that needed to be dealt with. "Winters are extremely cold in Idaho, so much so that any vegetation not covered by snow will burn," she said. "We just hope for the best but there is usually enough snow to cover the bushes and prevent any damage."
Now, as they enter the second year of production, Idaho Blueberry are more prepared to face these weather challenges, resulting in a productive season. "Currently, our season runs from the second week of June into the third or fourth week of July, depending on the weather," Choate added. "This year we had a severe frost just after the bloom and we thought we had lost everything. It is also hot now, with temperatures over 90 degrees, providing a stain on the blueberries. However, when this occurs, we create a more humid growing environment by applying overhead. The blueberries are thriving now and we are enjoying a decent crop. We are still ironing out things when it comes to equipment in the packing house, and have learned many things through trial and error, a process that continues on."
Distribution remains within the state for now
Idaho Blueberry are not ready yet to launch distribution further than their home state. The reasoning behind this is they say they are not able to compete with the massive scale of production over the border to the west. Therefore, they are concentrating on the local market as they continue to build brand recognition and solidify their operations.
"Demand is moderate and we mainly stay within Idaho," Choate shared. "It's very difficult to compete with Washington and Oregon because they have economies of scale and at this time, our cost base in unable to match theirs. Our brand focuses on 'locally-grown and hand-picked', and we offer a half pint clamshell as well as a full pint in the same size, just deeper."
Idaho Blueberry say there is potential for growth. Right now, the blueberry crop fits in well with their other crops which they grow at other times of the year. "The blueberry program is perfect in the context of our operations, as it sits right between the seasons of our hops and onion crops," Choate mentioned. "There is definitely potential to grow and the owners have set the business up with a five year plan in place. Right now, we continue to learn more about blueberry growing, working to improve it each year. In the meantime, we are building our brand and helping to spread awareness of our unique Idaho-grown blueberries."
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Tel: +1 (208) 316-4414