Blueberry Growers Watching Out For Overplanting

Singing The Blues

The problem is a familiar one to growers of all crops. The high prices of the past several years attracted more plantings — U.S. acreage is up 33% in just the past three years — and acreage is shooting up around the world (see chart). Because of the impending potential glut, Malensky and other U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council leaders are trying to pass an assessment this winter that will double their rate from $12 to $24 per ton. “There are a lot of blueberries in the ground that are just about to mature,” says Malensky. “We’re trying to raise money before those crops come on.”

Malensky believes the passage of the assessment is critical to the future of the U.S. industry, because they absolutely must have more money for promotion. “It’s the only way we’ll get increased prices,” says Malensky, dismissing the arguments of some of the large growers, who say they want to do their own marketing. “Good luck marketing on your own — somebody will just undercut you on the price.”

A Conundrum

Passing the assessment won’t be easy, Malensky concedes. Besides opposition from those who want to market on their own, the sharp decrease in prices — down to 20¢ a pound, in some cases — has growers looking to cut costs. “With prices low, they don’t want to pay (a higher assessment), but we need to promote to get rid of the low prices,” sighs Malensky. “It’s a conundrum.”

In the meantime, many leading growers aren’t just sitting idly by. They’ve worked hard to get blueberries onto school lunch menus, and had some success this year when USDA agreed to purchase up to $14.7 million worth of blueberries for federal nutrition assistance programs, the largest-ever purchase of blueberries. It’s a critical piece to their marketing strategy, Malensky says. “Many U.S. citizens have never had a blueberry, but when they try them, they like them,” he says. “If they grow up eating them, they’re customers for life.”

Another key part of the strategy is increasing exports. In October, the North American Blueberry Council made a decision to expand marketing to South Korea because a major U.S. retailer, Costco, would like to work with the council to get fresh berries into South Korea. Also, just a few months ago the first U.S. blueberries arrived in India, a market second only to China in size. “We really must get into promoting them in China,” says Malensky. “We need to get them eating blueberries.”

“Backwards” Marketing

After hearing of the acute oversupply problems, growers of other crops might not be considering blueberries. But if they’re not scared off, Malensky has a few words of advice. First, a lot of growers in recent years planted varieties that could only be used for processing. But if you lose a key buyer, such as the food company you sell to decides to go with a cheaper replacement fruit, you’re in trouble. “Plant only varieties that work for both the fresh market — those that have good eating quality — and the frozen market — those that can be machine-picked,” he says. “You’ll want that flexibility.”

Also, before you plant, Malensky advises that you talk to a lot of potential buyers to determine who exactly is going to buy your fruit. “Whatever market you’re going to sell it to, make sure it works,” he says. “Think backwards, start with the buyer, and then go back to the farm.”

Pest Spread Like Wildfire

Like a lot of growers, Malensky attends a weekly coffee shop meeting early in the morning to talk farming and solve the world’s problems. It’s not only good to shoot the breeze with buddies; it’s a great way of staying aware of what’s going on in your neck of the woods.

Additional Resources

To learn more about spotted wing drosophila (SWD), click on the links below.

Video explainationby Mark Bolda with the University of California Cooperative Extension and Kevin Hoffman, the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s primary state entomologist:

Mark Bolda’s blog

Basic information on SWD from UC IPM Online:

Oregon State University has created a website devoted to disseminating the latest information on SWD, find it here.

Malensky relearned that lesson at his Friday breakfast meeting this past August. He heard that the spotted wing drosophila (SWD), which was formerly known as cherry vinegar fly, had made its way north from California into Oregon. That morning he learned growers in the south end of the Willamette Valley had found SWD in their fruit. Malensky was concerned, but not overly worried, as he farms in Hillsboro, which is located in the north end of the valley, near Portland.

So the following Friday morning the news came as quite a shock. “My supervisor called during that breakfast meeting and said ‘We’ve got soft fruit.’ (SWD) really makes the fruit go to mush,” explains Malensky. “But the worst part is, I’ve never seen anything spread so quickly — ever.”
In fact, the field of blueberries where Malensky’s crew found the SWD had already been picked three or four times. And the pest is so small and because the damage is all on the inside of the fruit, the pickers couldn’t detect it. It wasn’t until they brought the fruit back to the packinghouse that they realized there was something wrong with the load.

Malensky immediately began spraying malathion and zeta-Cypermethrin (Mustang, FMC Corp.) every five to seven days and ended up saving the end of the field. That seemed to help, though the flight may have been down by then.

A few weeks after Malensky was hit, he was still talking about how remarkable the pest is. The speed with which it infested the West Coast was just amazing. “You know, it’s all the way to BC (British Columbia) now,” he says. “That thing spreads faster than anything I’ve ever seen.”

The SWD infestation was so lightning fast that Malensky said the only good thing is that it hit late enough in the season that most growers avoided losing huge amounts of fruit. “If that hits us at the beginning of blueberry season,” he says, “a lot of growers would have lost the whole crop.”

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
CitrusFederal Judge Blocks Clean Water Rule
August 28, 2015
  According to RISE (Responsible Industry For A Sound Environment), a federal judge in North Dakota has blocked implementation of Read More
PotatoesUSDA Deregulates Late Blight-Resistant Genetically Engineered Potato
August 28, 2015
Agency cites no significant impact of special spud developed by J.R. Simplot. Read More
Food SafetyLawmakers Urge FDA To Help Small Farms With FSMA Compliance
August 28, 2015
Letter from members of Congress asks FDA to expedite assistance and training for small producers. Read More
FruitsSustainable Options For Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Control
August 28, 2015
The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), unfortunately, is here to stay. Found in the U.S. in the late 1990s, this Read More
FruitsA Breakthrough In Biotechnology And The Future Of The Fruit Industry
August 28, 2015
Researchers from California and Sweden have recently been honored for a discovery that could have big implications for the fruit Read More
FruitsWhat Makes A Flavorful Fruit?
August 28, 2015
These days, U.S. consumers are increasingly demanding good-tasting fruit and the industry is responding. However, there remains room for improvement Read More
FruitsMedfly Find Prompts Quarantine In Portion Of San Diego County
August 28, 2015
A portion of San Diego County has been placed under quarantine for the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) following the detection Read More
Golden Rice
CitrusAnti-GMO-Fueled Threats Force Reallocation Of Biotech Education Funds
August 27, 2015
University of Florida officials say plans are to re-allocate a donation intended to improve the public’s understanding of science after Read More
ProductionNew Vegetable Grafting Technique Reduces Labor
August 27, 2015
Researchers patent a process to eliminate rootstock with the goal of making grafting more affordable in the U.S. Read More
money
CitrusMonsanto Drops Current Bid For Syngenta Acquisition
August 27, 2015
Even with a revised proposal that sweetened the pot to $46.2 billion, financial expectations still fall flat. Read More
The Latest
CitrusFederal Judge Blocks Clean Water Rule
August 28, 2015
  According to RISE (Responsible Industry For A Sound Environment), a federal judge in North Dakota has blocked implementation of Read More
PotatoesUSDA Deregulates Late Blight-Resistant Genetically Engi…
August 28, 2015
Agency cites no significant impact of special spud developed by J.R. Simplot. Read More
Food SafetyLawmakers Urge FDA To Help Small Farms With FSMA Compli…
August 28, 2015
Letter from members of Congress asks FDA to expedite assistance and training for small producers. Read More
FruitsSustainable Options For Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Cont…
August 28, 2015
The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), unfortunately, is here to stay. Found in the U.S. in the late 1990s, this Read More
FruitsA Breakthrough In Biotechnology And The Future Of The F…
August 28, 2015
Researchers from California and Sweden have recently been honored for a discovery that could have big implications for the fruit Read More
FruitsWhat Makes A Flavorful Fruit?
August 28, 2015
These days, U.S. consumers are increasingly demanding good-tasting fruit and the industry is responding. However, there remains room for improvement Read More
FruitsMedfly Find Prompts Quarantine In Portion Of San Diego …
August 28, 2015
A portion of San Diego County has been placed under quarantine for the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) following the detection Read More
Golden Rice
CitrusAnti-GMO-Fueled Threats Force Reallocation Of Biotech E…
August 27, 2015
University of Florida officials say plans are to re-allocate a donation intended to improve the public’s understanding of science after Read More
ProductionNew Vegetable Grafting Technique Reduces Labor
August 27, 2015
Researchers patent a process to eliminate rootstock with the goal of making grafting more affordable in the U.S. Read More
money
CitrusMonsanto Drops Current Bid For Syngenta Acquisition
August 27, 2015
Even with a revised proposal that sweetened the pot to $46.2 billion, financial expectations still fall flat. Read More
Jim McFerson
Apples & PearsNew Director At Washington Fruit Research Center Has Fa…
August 27, 2015
Jim McFerson, former manager at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, takes over at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center. Read More
Apples & PearsIt’s Been A Tough Year For Pacific Northwest Grow…
August 27, 2015
So far, 2015 is not treating the Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry all that well. We knew the record apple Read More
Insect & Disease UpdateCalifornia’s Citrus Growers Face More Challenges Than H…
August 27, 2015
As a kid growing up we all remember the arrival of Barnum & Bailey’s circus. The ads, the posters, the Read More
Leafy VegetablesThe Latest Vegetable Varieties For Covered Production
August 27, 2015
Check out cucumber, pepper and tomato offerings available from DeRuiter, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Rijk Zwaan, and Syngenta. The greenhouse varieties are Read More
Leafy VegetablesIceberg Lettuce Prices Up In California’s Abnormal Weat…
August 26, 2015
Price may be up but the heat and humidity are diminishing quality. Read More
Postharvest HandlingTechnology Helping To Bring That “Fresh-Picked…
August 26, 2015
Imagine what it’s like to pick a fresh peach off of a tree in an orchard. The smell, the texture Read More
FruitsDo You Have #FarmFans? If Not, You Should
August 26, 2015
Your guests are already live tweeting their experiences of visiting your farm. Why not turn this into a social experience to promote your business? Read More
NutsAlmonds Contribute Little To Carbon Emissions
August 25, 2015
Compared to other nutrient-dense foods, the carbon footprint of almonds is small. Read More