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'First Pick' marks start of Michigan blueberry harvest season

The Michigan blueberry harvest is in full swing with local growers working long hours to ensure that the blueberries are picked, packed and distributed to retailers, restaurants and consumers throughout the country.

Bob Burr, mayor of South Haven, MI, helped kick off the local harvest by visiting local blueberry grower Tom Bodtke, Bob Hawk, president and chief executive officer of the grower-owned Michigan Blueberry Growers cooperative, and Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC.

2013 FirstPick croppedBob Burr, mayor of South Haven, MI, with Tom Bodtke, a local blueberry grower, and Bob Hawk, president and CEO of Michigan Blueberry Growers. MBG Marketing is a founding partner of Naturipe Farms, which manages the sales, marketing and distribution of the co-op's blueberries.

"The weather earlier this year was excellent, with moderate temperatures in the spring that resulted in strong growth of our blueberry bushes," Bodtke said in a press release. "The growing conditions were ideal during the flowering stage with an active bee population, resulting in a good crop set and large individual berries.

"The next few weeks will be the most critical as we enter the peak of the harvest," Bodtke added. "We would like to avoid the high temperatures and extended rainy days; we will have to depend on Mother Nature to help us through the end of the harvest."

Mayor Burr received the ceremonial first picked fruit while conducting a tour of one of the fields owned by Bodtke and his family.

"I drive by these blueberry fields every day and it's easy to forget that it takes the hard work of growers like Tom and their employees, all year long in order to have a successful harvest season," Burr said in the press release. "Seeing all of the harvest activity in and around the fields and in our communities reminds us how important blueberries are to our local economies."

"All of our operations are focused on moving this year's crop from our Michigan family farms to the consumers table as quickly as possible," Bocock added in the press release. "There is a tremendous amount of coordination between the growers, our sales teams, packaging suppliers, processing facilities, warehouses and fruit coolers, truckers and the various support functions to keep our local industry thriving."

MBG Marketing, based in Grand Junction, MI, has prepared its packing and shipping facilities throughout Michigan for this year's expected large crop.

"In addition to our existing facilities we recently opened a new [IQF] frozen blueberry plant in Bloomingdale," said Hawk. "This state-of-the-art processing plant will allow us to provide a higher standard of premium frozen blueberries. The response from the market has been very exciting and orders for this upcoming crop are already coming into the Naturipe sales office. Our Michigan-grown frozen blueberries will be used by our domestic and international clients to make various baked goods, yogurts, cereals, ice creams, smoothies, fruit juices, concentrates, purees and bagged frozen blueberries sold to retailers and restaurants."

MBG Marketing and Naturipe Farms continue to work with the Michigan Ag Council to sponsor the Pure Michigan program which promotes the health and great taste of blueberries.

Michigan is the largest blueberry-producing state, growing more than 100 million pounds annually. MBG Marketing represents a large portion of the approximately 600 family farms in Michigan that grow fresh blueberries.