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Topsy-turvy year for blueberry growers across the US

It's been a rollercoaster year for blueberry growers in the United States. The weather has been largely to blame in different regions in terms of yield, with some areas experiencing lower than expected volumes, while others are looking at a better season.

Frosts in the southeast
It all started in February and March, when southeast states such as North Carolina, Georgia and Florida experienced damaging frosts. This resulted in significant crop losses, particularly of the rabbit eye varieties. This prompted the market price to rise and growers in the Pacific Northwest region were seeing huge demand for their blueberries now that customers were going to miss out on product from the southeast. 



Shortage affects demand in Pacific Northwest
Pacific Northwest farmers were gearing up for a huge year when spring conditions brought a mixed bag for growers in this region. Michael McMillan, from Bridges Organic Produce based in Portland Oregon, explained his observations for the organic blueberry market. "It's been a pretty unusual year. We started with the freezes in Georgia and Florida. Then at the end of the California season, prices began to rise as the demand for blueberries spiked." He continued, "Due to the huge shortage of supply from the southeast, customers were unable to fill their inventories and subsequently looked to the Pacific Northwest to replenish stock."

Cool, wet weather delays ripening of Duke 
McMillan pointed out that the Pacific Northwest was expecting a bumper year until weather again trumped expectations. "A lot of what we grow is the Duke variety, which is an early season fruit. Pollination problems may have been a factor, and the cool and wet spring we had here didn't help. As a result, the fruit ripened slowly and caused the crop to produce a lot of smaller size and underweight fruit." McMillan said that estimates had pinned the crop yield higher than what eventuated. "We're down around 20-25% on what estimates had predicted at the start of the season."
Paul Norris, of Norris Blueberry Farm near Roseburg, Oregon has experienced similar problems. "We had a cool and wet spring. Our early season Duke crop is down around 30% this year", Norris said.



Favorable conditions for Central Washington growers 
It's not all bad news for growers in the Pacific Northwest. Rainier Fruit Company, who are based in the Yakima valley in central Washington are seeing a better year than last. "The cool weather helped promote great plant vigor, and produced a nice crop of crunchy berries," said Blake Belknap at Rainier. "I think our tonnage will increase 10% over last year, which is between new plantings coming on-line, and increased crop yield too."

For more information: 
Michael McMillan
Bridges Produce 
Tel: +1 (503) 235-7333

Paul Norris
Norris Blueberry Farms 
Tel: +1 (541) 580-4506

Blake Belknap
Rainier Fruit Company 
Tel: +1 (509) 697-6309

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