It's blueberry pickin' time in

Contributing Editor Sharon Dowdy Thursday, 19 May 2011


It’s blueberry time in Georgia, and farmers expect a good season, says a
University of Georgia blueberry expert.

“We started picking (Southern) highbush berries the last of April, and the
crop looks good this year,” said Danny Stanaland, the UGA Cooperative
Extension agent in Bacon County, Ga., which is in the heart of Georgia
blueberry country.

*Most are rabbiteyes*
About 60 percent of blueberries in Georgia are the rabbiteye variety. The
remaining 40 percent are Southern highbush variety. Farmers will begin
harvesting rabbiteye berries later this month. Harvest for both varieties
runs through July.

Georgia didn’t get late-spring frosts this year. This caused the bushes to
produce more fruit, which isn’t always a good thing, Stanaland said.

“Growers had a little trouble with the bushes over-fruiting because of a
cold early winter followed by a warm spell,” he said. “The little frosts and
freezes we usually have thin the fruit. When this doesn’t happen, the bush
makes more berries, and the berries are a little smaller than they would
have been if the plant had thinned.”

*Need more rain*
Overall, though, the crop looks “really good,” he said. Weather is a hot
topic right now for all farmers. Stanaland says the weather is “cooperating,
but we haven’t had much rain, and we need some.”

Steve Mullis of Alma tends 400 acres of his own blueberries and is the
president of the Georgia Blueberry Growers Association. He has been involved
in the industry since its infancy in the early 1970s when, as a teenager in
FFA, he helped plant the state’s first crop.

“It’s an emerging crop across the U.S., not just in Georgia,” Mullis said.
“We started in Georgia with a handful of growers, and now we have around 325
growers who sell to the fresh and frozen market.”

*No. 4 for now*
Grown in a few southeast counties, Georgia-grown blueberries are sold in the
U.S. and exported to other countries.

If Mother Nature doesn’t send a “weather tragedy,” Mullis anticipates the
blueberry crop will be larger this season than last. “We should have a
record crop,” he said. “But there are a lot of variables between now and the
end of the season. The crop is going okay. We’re just a little short on

Georgia farmers grow around 25,000 acres of blueberries. This puts Georgia
in fourth place production-wise behind Michigan, New Jersey and North
Carolina. “We’re No. 4 now, but we are slowly moving up,” Stanaland said.

*A healthy want*
Stanaland feels the economy has taken a turn and consumers are spending more
on items they want instead of need.

“With a commodity like blueberries, you don’t have to have them, but they
are sure good,” he said. “And if you eat a few every day, they are very
healthy for you.”

For home gardeners who want to add a blueberry bush or two to their
landscapes, Mullis recommends rabbiteye varieties.

Dr. Teri Hamlin
North Region Agriculture Education
Georgia Department of Education
204C Four Towers University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602
706-552-4461 / 706-540-0032
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