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Blueberry production ramping up in California

The formula for California blueberry production can be summarized simply. “You bloom in March. You pray in April. You pick in May,” Alex Ott, executive director of the California Blueberry Commission, told The Produce News on April 10.

The mantra is holding true as the state’s producers move into their annual harvest. The state’s grower base is comprised of 80 producers and 20 handlers. In the past, acreage devoted to blueberry production increased. “Increased plantings of blueberries have leveled off,” Mr. Ott observed. OpenerShotCalifornia is home to 80 producers and 20 handlers who pick, pack and ship blueberries. Production occurs along the Central Coast and Central Valley. According to the California Blueberry Commission, the state’s plantings have leveled off. But volume continues to grow. (Photo courtesy of the California Blueberry Commission)Volume, however, continues to move upward.

According to Mr. Ott, spring conditions have been generally favorable this season. “The weather has just been fantastic,” he stated. Although nighttime temperatures have been on the cool side, daytime temperatures have been warm. “We’re about a week early from what we understand,” he went on to say.

Some limited volume of hooped berries began in January and February. “But the bulk of the industry is in May and June.” Last year, volume peaked on June 6. “It’s going to be earlier this year,” Mr. Ott stated. “Come July 1, you’ll see California blueberries finish up.”

Last season, the state’s producers harvested a total of 44 million boxes of blues for all uses. Of this total, Mr. Ott said 74 percent was moved to the fresh market. “California could break the 50-million-box mark in a few more years,” he said of future prospects.

Last season, California ranked sixth in the nation for its blueberry production and fifth in the nation in terms of fresh production.

The North American Blueberry Council met on Feb. 29. “President Dave Arena asked NABC members to update forecasts from this past October,” Mr. Ott said. Based upon this information, NABC estimated a 2011 crop of 747.3 million pounds of blueberries for both highbush and lowbush varieties, 319.5 million of which moved to the fresh market.

The 2011 highbush crop was projected at 533.3 million pounds, with 317.5 million pounds going for fresh and 215.8 million pounds going to process. A total of 263 million pounds were projected as coming from the Western Region.

On Dec. 1, 2011, the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its updated annual Fruit and Tree Nut Yearbook. According to the report, California’s blueberry producers harvested a total of 3,900 acres in 2010 with a yield of 7,180 pounds per acre. The value of utilized production was $75.9 million.