Georgia blueberry crop significantly damaged by last week's cold

Unseasonably cool temperatures passed through the southeastern United States late last week. Berry growers in both Florida and Georgia were on frost watch, and those in the northern blueberry growing areas have suffered damage to their crops. In Florida, temperatures approached freezing and growers in the northern part of the state undertook frost protection measures. While in Georgia, temperatures went as low as 23F (-5C) in some of the blueberry growing counties. 

A few growers have been able to assess damage and it appears that those in the north of the state did not fare well. "We've lost about half our crop," said Dick Byne of Byne Blueberry Farms near Augusta, Georgia. "The cold was too much and half the bushes have burned brown. There's no way to get it back now because the plants need about 800 chill hours and we won't get that anymore in March. I haven't spoken with too many others but it seems those in the South part of the state may have fared better. While those of us in the North have suffered."

Blueberry harvest already behind
The blueberry crop in general had already been delayed by sustained lower than average temperatures over several weeks. While not necessarily damaging, it has already pushed back the blueberry season in the southeast. Growers in Florida did not report damage, but said general harvest progress was slow.

"No damage occurred to our strawberry or blueberry crops in Central Florida from the cool weather," said one berry grower. "Overall though, the blueberries are later this year. Last year, we had already started picking marketable volume, whereas this year, we haven't even been out in the fields yet. This is a result of the cooler conditions in general and, while not causing any damage, it has slowed everything down." 

Florida strawberry growers positive
Many strawberry growers in Florida reported that they were not expecting any problems associated with the cooler temperatures. The delay on the strawberry crop was in fact seen as a positive by some. They observed it will extend their season, with the only real affect being a general slowdown. Additionally, the cold will help with the sizing up of the berries. 

"It wasn't really cold enough in these parts to cause any real issues," explained Robert Wilhelm of Bova Fresh. "It only got down to 38F (3C) in some of the fields so we didn't even need to run frost protection. The cooler conditions will just mean coloring will slow up a little, but that will also extend our season longer. This level of cold can actually be beneficial for the berries, as it helps to size them up better."

Cooler temperatures, around freezing in some berry growing areas, are expected again through the middle of this week.

For more information:
Dick Byne
Byne Blueberry Farms
+1 (706) 554-6244

Robert Wilhelm
Bova Fresh
Tel: +1 (561) 826-7500

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