Northwest blueberry producers survive weather, anticipate good crops
by Lora Abcarian | June 23, 2010
Weather in the Pacific Northwest has been particularly finicky this blueberry
season. But the bouts of warm weather in February, unseasonably cool spring
weather and a mid-June warm-up have not deterred producers.
"Here in Oregon, we have a very good crop coming off," said Mike Klackle,
fresh salesperson for Townsend Farms Inc. in Fairview, OR. Looking
northward, Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers Inc. in
Wenatchee, WA, echoed a similar sentiment. "It looks as if we will have a good
crop," he told The Produce News in mid-June. "We made it through the
"We had abnormally warm temperatures in February that caused the trees to
break dormancy," said Mr. Klackle. Conditions were especially abnormal when
compared to weather patterns in the rest of the nation, he went on to say. Even as growers began to speculate that 2010 might be a record-breaking
season, the weather turned again. "It's been nothing but nasty weather [since
February]," Mr. Klackle said. "It's hard to attribute weather conditions. We had
our first 80-degree day [on June 14]."
According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, 10 states - including
Oregon and Washington - account for 97 percent of all domestic production.
Oregon is the nation's third-largest blueberry producer, followed by fourth-
place Washington. The region is known for its high-quality berries ranging
from early to late varieties.
Alan Schreiber, administrator of the Washington Blueberry Commission,
characterized most of June as cool and wet. Growing regions suffered poor
pollination and some fruit rot, and he expects Washington's overall blueberry
volume to be approximately 42 million pounds, a 4 million-pound increase
from 2009. Three-quarters of the increase is expected to go to the fresh
Looking at Oregon, Mr. Klackle said that estimates are already calling for a
record year, with approximately 55 million pounds entering the pipeline in
2010. This compares with 46 million pounds of blueberries produced last
Producers are meeting increased market demand with increased yields and
plantings. Mr. Pepperl told The Produce News, "Our numbers will grow mostly
with maturity of our plantings. Our acreage is not expanding, but our crop
size is growing."
Bobby Stokes, part of the marketing team at Curry & Co., said that the
company is working through its plans to increase both the size of its grower
network and land dedicated to blueberry production. "We are in continued
planned growth at Curry," he told The Produce News. Both acreage in
blueberry production and product volume are expected to increase by 30
percent in 2010 for the company.
Consumers are increasingly making associations between blueberry
consumption and its positive contributions to healthy lifestyles. Mr. Pepperl
sees this as good news. "[Blueberries] are profitable, and now that production
per acre is hitting us in a big way, you are seeing a much more profitable
picture. Demand is high for our high-quality and very large-sized
Blueberry popularity has growers looking at ways to extend their marketing
windows. "We have been successful working together with growers, nurseries
and industry leaders in making certain that our growers see the value of new,
late-harvest varieties that consumers and our buyers demand," Mr. Stokes
He shared some of his predictions about the future of the blueberry industry.
"In my opinion, flavor is going to be the next major dividing line for
blueberries." Curry & Co. also imports blueberries from Chile. "[In early June],
I spent two weeks traveling in Chile -- 1,400 miles by car -- visiting
producers, packers and exporters," he told The Produce News. "The savvy
growers here in the USA and in Chile all know one thing for certain: They will
get return customers for the best-tasting variety. Any new plantings will be
for quality and taste, not just for yield."
(For more on Northwest blueberries, see the June 28, 2010, issue of The