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Blueberry crop quality, markets side with growers
POPLARVILLE, Miss. -- Blueberry growers in Mississippi are having a successful season thanks to good harvesting conditions, crop quality and market prices.
“The overall quality of the fruit is very good this year, and most of the producers I’ve talked to are happy,” said Eric Stafne, fruit crops specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “The weather has recently been hot and dry for the most part, which is what you want at harvest time.”
According to the June 10 Mississippi Crop Progress and Condition Report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 86 percent of the crop is in good or excellent condition.
There was some loss to cold damage in March, especially to Rabbiteye blueberries. The two most commonly grown blueberry types in Mississippi are Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush.
“The season started very early with a warm February, but a cold March and April really slowed things down,” said Stafne, who is based at the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Center in Poplarville, Mississippi. “Southern Highbush were a bit early, but Rabbiteye harvest was about on time.”
John Aust, owner of Aust Farms in Forrest County, was one grower who saw early-season loss.
“We had a couple of freezes around March 16 that got half of our early crop, but our later crop has been really good, so we made up for it,” Aust said. “There’s never a year that works out the way you want it to, but that’s farming.”
A four-year low in storage and poor crops in other states also helped Mississippi growers. Prices for blueberries originating from the state were $30 per flat as of June 8 at the Columbia, South Carolina Terminal Market, according to the USDA. Prices per flat in the Atlanta Terminal Market ranged from $28 to $31.
“In our region, the amount in storage is down dramatically, and poor crops in Georgia and North Carolina have helped us,” Stafne said. “Produce from New Jersey is coming into the market now, so we will soon see prices start to fall, but overall, the prices have remained strong for longer than many other years.”
Blueberry production in Mississippi averages about 2,000 acres a year.
“Over the last few years, there has been some attrition due to poor market prices and aging out of the producers,” Stafne said.
Blueberry growers in isolated areas of the state grapple with Exobasidium, but they are beginning to get a handle on how to minimize problems with this fungus. Mummy berry, the main disease most growers face every year, is being reported more often than usual. This fungus turns blueberries white and wrinkled.
“This year seems to have more mummy berry than usual,” he said. “This only creeps up when sprays are not applied or not applied at the right time.”