Good Fruit Grower

February 15

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24 FEBRUARY 15, 2016 Good Fruit Grower T he blueberry industry has grown at an astonishing rate for years in terms of prices, consumer demand and acre- age. So what could go wrong? Plenty, cautions industry consultant John Shelford. He described the indus- try's growth as the Blue Wave and posed the question, will growers continue to ride it or crash? His advice: Manage risks. Shelford spoke in January at the Washington Highbush Blueberry Workshop, organized by Washington State University Extension. The workshop covered advances in horticultural man- agement and the future of production. Shelford has worked in the blueberry business for 40 years. He is a Florida- based industry consultant who served as president of Naturipe Farms LLC and as president of Hortifrut NA Inc. He has seen astonishing change during his career. Blueberries were a regional crop and little known nationally before 1986, he said. Today, consumer demand is strong, benefi ting from research showing the health effects of blueberries. Ninety- nine percent of households believe blue- berries are a healthy food, he said. Statistics on blueberries are tracked by region and by highbush (historically described as "cultivated") versus "wild" blueberries. Highbush blueberries grow from planted bushes. "Wild" arise from areas where competing plants may have been cleared, allowing natural propaga- tion of bushes primarily through under- ground runners. Wild blueberries are not necessarily "wild" as similar horticultural practices are essential, including herbi- cides and pesticides. Wild blueberries are often irrigated and pruned as well. Here's how the categories are explained by Lisa Wasko DeVetter, a workshop organizer and WSU Assistant Professor of Small Fruit Horticulture based in Mount Vernon, Washington: "'Highbush' is a way we differentiate among other blueberry species that are cultivated," she said. "We have low-grow- ing 'lowbush' blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium, also known as "wild blue- berry") grown in the Maine area. Then we have 'highbush' (mostly Vaccinium corymbosum). Within highbush, we have low- and high-chill types that are commonly referred to as southern and northern highbush, respectively. Then we have rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei). On top of that, we have crosses of low and highbush types called 'half-high' blueberry." In Washington, the dominant species is the highbush. Statics kept by Shelford show how highbush blueberry production has grown and shifted to the Northwest. In 1996, total production nationally was 164 million pounds, with the largest pro- ducer being the Great Lakes at 45 million pounds, versus 25 million pounds from Oregon and Washington. Last year, total production was 711 million pounds, with 75 million pounds from the Great Lakes versus 196 million pounds from Oregon and Washington. If you count British Columbia and California, the shift from the East to the West is even more dra- matic during that period, from 38 percent to 59 percent of total production. Blueberry plantings continue at a brisk pace. Between 2007 and 2014, worldwide plantings grew at a compounded annual rate of 10 percent. In North America, the fi gure for that period was 8 percent. By the end of 2014, blueberry acreage The BLUE WAVE Blueberries have made big gains with consumers, but there are signs growers should be cautious. by O. Casey Corr 2005 2007 2008 2010 2012 2014 50,000 ACRES 100,000 ACRES 150,000 ACRES 200,000 ACRES 250,000 ACRES North America South America Europe, Africa and Asia Worldwide blueberry acreage is growing SOURCE: U.S. HIGHBUSH BLUEBERRY COUNCIL JARED JOHNSON/GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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