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California blueberry producers eyeing crop pollination

by Lora Abcarian | April 08, 2011

Dicey weather has been a wild card for California’s late-variety blueberry producers this season. Alexander Ott, executive director of the California Blueberry Commission, summed things up this way. “Right now, we’re concerned about weather,” he told The Produce News April 4. “We’re really curious how this will translate to pollination.”calif blues

Conditions during the production season have been cool, wet and windy. “Then this past Friday [April 1], it was 85 degrees,” he said. He hopes that bees’ wings will be dry so they can perform their pollination activities satisfactory. “The conditions are favorable,” Mr. Ott continued. “But it’s all about the pollination.”

Early varieties have fared well. “I did eat some berries off the bush,” he said. “They were good.”

Mr. Ott said that picking for some early varieties was set to begin around April 16, with the harvest for late-season varieties ramping up on May 1. According to Mr. Ott, it is too soon to comment about blueberry volume or quality for the 2011 season.

California is home to 80 producers and 20 handlers that pick, pack and ship blueberries. Mr. Ott said that the growing extends from the Sacramento Delta as far south as San Diego and north to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Mr. Ott said that during 2010, California’s blueberry producers marketed 29.8 million pounds of blues, making the state the nation’s seventh largest blueberry producer.

“Production has shot up in the last five years,” he went on to say. “We’re at 29.8 million pounds and growing.”

A volume and acreage survey was performed last year for the California blueberry industry, and Mr. Ott said that results will be available in the near future.

In addition to domestic consumption in the western region, Mr. Ott said that the California Blueberry Commission is studying the feasibility of moving product to Canada and Mexico as well as offshore.

In October 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service released its annual Fruit & Tree Nut Yearbook. Data contained in the report quantified California’s blueberry production since estimates first began in 2005. According to the report, harvested blueberry acres increased from 1,900 acres in 2005 to 3,000 in 2009. Per-acre yields increased from 4,790 pounds in 2005 to 8,070 in 2009.

Looking at the fresh market, blueberry volume exploded from 9.1 million pounds in 2005 to 24.2 million pounds in 2009.

The value of all utilized production grew from approximately $40.5 million in 2005 to $71.1 million in 2009.