The crop outlook for Washington organic blueberries looks strong for the 2021 season.
“The growing conditions so far have been excellent. We’ve had a bit of heat over the past couple of days but everything is fine. The weather looks cooled off for the next 10 days so it’s ideal conditions,” says Michael McMillan of Bridges Organic Produce based in Portland, OR.
The crop will likely start at the usual time, between June 15-25 and should ship until the middle to second half of September. “The strongest promotional window tends to be the last week of June, which can be a little tight the way the season is going to start, but then continue throughout July and the first week in August. That’s the strongest period for volumes,” says McMillan.
Volume will be up this season as well which is a pattern the industry has been seeing in recent years. As plantings mature, they tend to yield heavier volumes. “There’s a desire and drive to help increase consumption which seems to be the natural trajectory,” says McMillan.
Anticipating strong demand
As for demand, McMillan believes it will be strong this season. “With organic fruit especially, as people make the conscious decision to purchase organic items, those are decisions they tend to not dial back on,” he says. Also helping demand are those greater volumes coming on which can lead to pricing becoming more accessible and parallel to conventional items. “There’s also more opportunity for retailers to promote and offer sustainability and health messages to consumers. So we see good demand ahead,” adds McMillan.
Also helping demand is the work around fruit quality in the industry. At Bridges, it tends to prune fruit heavily which of course leads to bigger fruit. “As the industry becomes a year-round commodity, you lose some of the significance of regional programs. Our goal is to provide an exceptional quality in-season experience for our customers,” he says. Also factoring into this is the Draper variety of berry which Bridges focuses on. “It’s set the bar for fresh market eating expectations around size, brix and pressure. The question is what’s next and what’s after Draper? How do other varieties mirror those characteristics in different windows of the market which are primarily later?” asks McMillan.
In the meantime, this coming season, McMillan anticipates the pricing might match historical levels. “Last year was a good priced market,” he says. “Looking at the peaks happening now out of California and Mexico, those are parallel with where they have been in the past so I anticipate pricing to be comparable.”