Florida Blueberry Industry Still Has Some Growing Up To Do [Opinion]

Dudley Calfee headshotLast season, Florida blueberry growers harvested about 25 million pounds of berries throughout the state. This was up from just less than 17 million the year before and closer to our harvest of 22 million pounds two seasons ago. If we believe the common wisdom that there are about 7,000 acres of blueberries in the state, this year’s harvest works out to an average of about 3,500 pounds per acre.

More beneficial chill hours, good growing conditions, favorable harvest weather, adequate labor supply at the beginning of the season, and additional mature plantings contributed to a record blueberry harvest for the state.

So you would think we would be pleased with the results, but most growers were disappointed with their bottom line figures at the end of the season.

The fruit came off the bush quickly and in great quantity throughout the state overwhelming some marketers’ ability to move the fruit quickly. Full coolers and the result of some fruit being directed to terminal markets resulted in reduced prices. The market for Florida blueberries goes almost exclusively through the grocery stores to get to our consumers. If ads are not in place to move a large volumes of fruit within a few days of harvest, lower prices are the result as produce managers try to encourage the public to take home an extra clamshell of berries at attractive prices.

“You need to match the terminal price,” is the mantra of the grocery produce buyer at times like this and growers feel the result of this request in our wallets.

Forecasting On The Radar

I have talked in the past about the need to better predict our crop. Other states, with many more years of blueberry experience under their belts, have developed forecast models that offer information about what volume they may expect and when harvest may peak. Forecasting requires monitoring weather, disease and insect pressure, and the input of this data into constantly fine-tuned models for yield.

We need to learn from our brother growers in other states and try to develop similar forecasts for Florida blues. We may not be 100% accurate at the beginning, but with experience, I think we can move toward knowing with more certainty what type of harvest we may have each season.

The Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association (FBGA) are committed to making crop forecasting a reality. We plan to work with UF/IFAS and the US Highbush Commission to try to bring accurate yield forecasts to Florida. It won’t happen overnight, so we need to start as soon as possible to enable us to fine tune our models.

Read the following pages to get Calfee’s take on persistent pests, expanding acreage, and marketing progress.

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