About 30 percent of that first crop was lost in the freeze, but some areas were hit harder than others. Cornelius has one field that usually produces 150,000 pounds of fruit during the first harvest cycle and this year it only yielded 15,000 pounds, he said.

The warm temperatures in late February and early March also brought flocks of migratory birds to south Georgia just as farmers were seeing their blueberries mature. Consequently, many berries were lost to hungry birds, Nesmith said.

“It looked like an Alfred Hitchcock movie out there,” Cornelius said.

Luckily, Georgia’s second blueberry harvest, which is typically in May and June, didn’t suffer from either bird predation or frost, he said. Georgia growers are still on track to produce about 60 million pounds of blueberries this year.

While Georgia is technically still “The Peach State,” the value of the state’s blueberry crop, at about $133 million, is almost three times what the state’s peach crop is worth.

Just 10 years ago, there were only about 5,000 acres of blueberry fields in the state and the crop was only worth about $22 million. Today, Georgia farmers are using about 20,000 acres for blueberry production, according to Nesmith.

“When you look at the increase, it’s a curve you shouldn’t be able to get,” he said.

The uptick in blueberry production started in the late 1980s and began to ramp up in the 1990s when food scientists trumpeted the antioxidant-rich berry as a super food, Nesmith said.

South Georgia’s acidic, well-drained soil provided the perfect place for farmers to start to fill the growing market demand for blueberries.

Georgia farmers are looking for new markets for their berries, and new varieties that will allow their farms to be more productive. Both efforts are necessary to compete with growing global production of Georgia’s top berry, Cornelius said.