Published on 07/15/13

Despite rain, no blueberry blues for Georgia

By Erica P. Techo

In the wake of a cold spring and more than 35 inches of rain, Georgia’s blueberry crop has prevailed.

“There’s always the challenges of growing blueberries,” said Erick Smith, a blueberry expert and assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s Tifton campus, “but I think for the most part, this year has been a pretty fair year for them.”

no bug, bird issues

Smith said this year’s crop did not see any problems with bugs or birds, and the excess rainfall did not negatively affect the crop.

“I’ve seen lots of fruit go across the packing lines, and it looks like there has been a bit of success this year, even with the rains we’ve had,” he said.

Blueberries that get too much water can crack or develop fungus, and there are many management problems that come with too much rain.

“One of the biggest problems that they have is if you end up picking fruit that’s wet and taking it into the packing line, it can start the mycological problems,” Smith said. “There can be fungus growing on them.”

Carefully planned picking

To account for the rain, farmers had to pick their berries at strategic times of the day, working around the damp or dewy hours.

“It’s preferable to harvest your blueberries dry and bring them to market,” Smith said. “What [farmers] have been trying to do is harvest after the morning dews have dried and end the harvest before they get rains and get their blueberries under cover.”

This year’s crop bloomed late because of the cool spring, but most farmers didn’t see a large delay in their harvests. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 81 percent of Georgia’s blueberries were harvested by July 1, placing this year less than a week behind the crop progress in 2012.

“It’s not quite [done], but it’s really close to wrapped up,” Smith said. “A lot of the blueberries that are going through the processes right now are going to be either quick frozen or frozen blueberries that are going to be put into storage. So we’re right at the tail end of it right now.”

Large percentage of state's fruit/nut industry

More than 65 million pounds of Georgia blueberries were produced in 2011, and the crop’s farm gate value was more than $254 million. The popular fruit comprised almost 40 percent of Georgia’s fruit and nut industry.

“If you’re a Georgian buying Georgia blueberries … you’re buying a blueberry that’s very close to the market, that’s very close to your house and supporting the people of your state,” Smith said. “And I think that is one of the greatest advantages of buying a Georgia blueberry.”

Erica Techo, a communications intern with UGA Extension, is studying English and Political Science at the University of Georgia.

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