The timeframe for the US domestic blackberry season is increasing each year as growers work with new varieties and the plants themselves to stretch production. Currently, the California and North Carolina seasons are still going, although it is now approaching the end. Both of these states have a spring and fall crop which can extend the domestic season into October. However, North Carolina's crop might have been affected during the latest hurricane.
"In California, Salinas and Santa Maria are still producing blackberries," said Jose Saca of Wish Farms. "An area in North Carolina close to Charlotte is also still in season. This area was expected to receive a lot of rainfall from Hurricane Florence, but we don't think it will have caused any major problems. Just a few years ago, there was no domestic supply available in October. Now with newer varieties such as Prime Ark 45, developed by the University of Arkansas, plants are able to produce later into the year."
Right now, the market is strengthening with strong demand placing a strain on patchy supply. "It's a good time to be a grower right now," Saca noted. "Prices are climbing which is typical for this time of year. Retailers are asking for more and consumers are enjoying blackberries."
Bumpy start to Mexico season
Just as the US domestic season draws to a close, the Mexican blackberry season is slowly beginning, with the first berries coming out of Michoacán. Supply has started in small quantities and fruit quality is mixed as it is still the rainy season in many parts. Additionally, there are some unconfirmed reports of disease pressure, all of which is making for a challenging start to the Mexican deal.
"There is still plenty of rain around and quality can be less than average," Saca observed. "We typically wait until the last week of September or early October to start orders to ensure quality is good. There is speculation in the industry about possible production problems. In some of the regions, there is talk of disease pressure on the plants which affects yields. Last year, the same claims were made but we didn't see any significant reductions in our Wish Farms supply. Growers however, are still being vigilant."
Saca added that new food safety regulations have been put in place by the USDA which will likely create some production delays as growers adjust and fill out the necessary paperwork. He said this is of particular challenge in Mexico where much of the production is made up of small scale family farms. "The stricter standards put in place by the USDA might have an impact on production," he explained. "Getting everybody certified is a big job and therefore there might be a bit of a slowdown at the start of the season. This affects all commodities, not just blackberries."
Wish Farms confident in blackberry category
Wish Farms said it is growing its blackberry category by increasing volume and celebrating the opening of a new facility in North Carolina dedicated only to blackberries.
"This year we will have more volume available as we have aligned ourselves with suppliers and partners to grow the category," Saca shared. "The new blackberry cooler we have opened in North Carolina has now been operational for several weeks. This is used exclusively for North Carolina blackberries. Blackberries are still a relatively new category for us but it has been successful. We are always on the lookout for opportunities to expand our operations and grow our brand."
Visit a berry field and pack house at PMA
This year, Wish Farms is quite excited to be exhibiting at PMA as their headquarters are only 45 minutes away. The company said this will enable them to send a large team to the show. They will also have a larger booth this year and will be offering visitors the chance to pay a visit to some of their berry farms through a virtual reality experience.
"PMA this year is local to our headquarters so our whole team will be there," said Amber Maloney of Wish Farms. "We are going to have an island booth with a bigger floor area, within the 'Fresh from Florida' pavilion and all four berries will be on show."
"This year, we are introducing a virtual reality experience," she continued. "Headsets will be available which visitors can put on and be transported to one of our berry farms and see the process from picking through to packing. It's a great opportunity for those that would love to visit us in person, but don't have the time or ability to make it. More details of this feature will be released in a few weeks."
Wish Farms will be at Booth 3511.