Blueberry industry addresses looming imbalance between supply, demand | capitalpress.com

Glenn Aldrich has been growing blueberries for 50 years, and for the past 20 or 30 years, he said, the industry has been “quite a success story.”

But now, he said, producers face a new challenge.

Acreage and yield have increased on U.S. farms, and the per capita consumption has also increased significantly. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, annual per capita consumption has grown from a little less than 1 pound in 2000 to almost 2 pounds in 2009.

What worries Aldrich is all the blueberry plantings that will come into maturity the next couple of years.

“That per capita has to increase dramatically,” he said.

The Highbush Council expects production to increase more than 38 percent by 2015. And the North American Blueberry Council figures that to maintain a balance between supply and demand, annual consumption will have to reach more than 3 pounds per capita, according to the North American Blueberry Council.

Along with the Highbush Council’s continuing promotion of the berry’s health benefits, development of new products is expected to boost consumption.

According to the NABC, North American food processors developed almost 1,000 new products in 2012, and worldwide processors — including those in Asia, Europe and Latin America — have turned out 3,200 products. New categories include juices, pet foods and cosmetics. Also frozen blueberries are going into consumer-size poly bags.

World highbush blueberry acreage grew from 50,000 acres in 1995 to more than 190,000 in 2010. More than half the acreage is in North America, followed by South America — primarily Chile — and European countries such as Poland, Germany and France.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the U.S. exported $125 million in fresh blueberries in 2012, up 17 percent from the previous year. Frozen blueberries totaled $69 million, up 39 percent. Canada was the No. 1 buyer, followed by Japan.

Still, the U.S. is a net importer of blueberries, importing $420 million in 2012, a 12 percent increase. More than half comes from Chile, which provides fresh berries during the winter. Canada provides 25 percent of fresh blueberries and more than half the frozen product.

Washington state’s production of blueberries has grown in both pounds and in acres harvested.

In 2009, growers produced 39 million pounds on 4,800 acres; in 2010, 42 million pounds on 5,200 acres; and in 2011, 61 million pounds on 7,000 acres, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Most of the state’s production is in Whatcom and Skagit counties, in northwestern Washington. More than a dozen growers operate between Everett and Mossyrock, a half-dozen in Eastern Washington and a half-dozen in Clark County, near Vancouver.

In 2012, the state ranked fourth in blueberry production, behind Michigan, Oregon and Georgia. But it led all other states in yield, producing more than 4 tons per acre, followed by Oregon, New Jersey, California and North Carolina.

Festivals

* July 12-13 — Oregon Berry Festival in Portland

* Aug. 2-4 — Mossyrock Blueberry Festival

More information: www.pickyourown.org/BlueberryFestivals.php

KS

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Value of Washington organic farm crops rising, acreage shrinking | capitalpress.com

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) — For the first time, people seek out Gary Middleton to buy his organic fruit.

That’s something that has taken Middleton, who farms about 100 acres of organic apples, cherries and blueberries near Eltopia, about 13 years to accomplish, and is among the reasons he plans to continue to stay organic.

The number of organic acres farmed in the state is dropping, from almost 105,000 in 2009 to an estimated 88,100 in 2012, according to a recent study by Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

But the value of the state’s organic crops is rising.

It grew by 20 percent from 2010-11, to $284.5 million, the study said. That’s the highest value in seven years.

Eastern Washington counties accounted for about 82 percent of that value.

Some of the drop in acreage may be because farmers have realized the amount of work, expense and challenge involved with farming organically, said Middleton of Middleton Organic Orchards.

Organic agriculture is more labor-intensive, requiring hand thinning and hand weeding, he explained. At the peak, when blueberries and cherries are harvested simultaneously, he’ll need about 250 people.

Organic prices have to be high enough to cover those increased costs.

“I love being an organic farmer, but it still comes down to economics,” he said.

Organic farmers don’t use herbicides, and are limited in the pesticides and fertilizers they can use.

Middleton uses compost for fertilizer, which requires more planning when it comes to nutrients. It doesn’t deliver as much nitrogen as fast as synthetic products.

But organic agriculture seems a good fit for stewardship of the land, he said. He’s noticed that the beneficial insects, including bees and ladybugs, have increased.

Most of the blueberries still were green last week, although a few showed a hint of a bluish-purple hue.

Middleton’s irrigation system was going on and off in a 15-minute rotation to cool his apples and blueberries and to suppress sunburn.

The blueberry and cherry harvests will likely start around the end of this month, Middleton said. Blueberries will be color-picked by hand, with the same bushes picked three to four times.

Middleton’s goal is to serve an “elite” fresh market, with stores like Costco and Whole Foods carrying his blueberries, he said.

Blueberry harvest can last a month, and cherry harvest can last for about 14 days, he said. His cherries, like others in the area, were hit by frost damage, slashing the expected yield.

After those harvests are complete, Middleton and his crew will move on to the Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples. Frost also might affect those yields, but he said the blueberries seemed to come through the cold — which dropped as low as 23 degrees — just fine.

Increasing yields from fruit trees could be a part of why the value of the state’s organic crops continue to grow, said David Granatstein, a sustainable agriculture specialist at WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Granatstein completed the WSU study with Elizabeth Kirby, a sustainable agriculture research associate.

It’s also possible that some fruit that was sold as conventional because of better prices is now being sold as organic, Granatstein said.

Sales and prices of organic crops continue to increase, suggesting that the market is not saturated, he said.

Grant County continues to lead the state in organic production with about 22,000 acres and a 2011 crop value of $87.8 million, up about 37 percent from the year before.

Benton County has the second most acreage, at about 7,800 in 2012, down about 10 percent from the year before. The 2011 crop value was about $25.8 million, up 17 percent from the previous year.

Franklin County had an estimated 3,200 acres in 2012, a 2 percent drop. Yet value climbed by nearly 37 percent to $18 million.

Organic acres and sales for other area counties were:

* Adams County, relatively unchanged at about 2,500 organic acres in 2012, with value growing by nearly 37 percent to more than $6 million in 2011.

* Walla Walla County, down by 4 percent to about 2,200 acres in 2012, with value up 10 percent to $22 million.

* Yakima County, up 5 percent at about 5,700 acres in 2012, with value increasing 23 percent to $23.4 million in 2011.

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