What is in this article?:
- Georgia set to be top blueberry state sooner rather than later
- Challenges to growth
• Since the late 1990s, Georgia's blueberry industry has grown by as much as 20 percent annually.
• USDA pegs acreage at 15,000 but the actual number is closer to 20,000 and growing.
Challenges to growth
The global marketplace will also help determine the future of Georgia blueberries. While the state’s harvesting season typically lasts from mid-April through the end of July, competing states such as Michigan, New Jersey, Florida and countries such as Chile have crept into the growing window.
Though a lot has been learned on what to do and not to do when it comes to commercial blueberry production in Georgia, Cornelius said, he compares the industry now to what Georgia’s vegetable industry was during its infancy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Vegetable growers were starting to roll bigger and management and production challenges were being figured out.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about blueberries and what to do,” he said. “And with new acreage coming into full production in the next few years and maybe even more (acreage), every farm is different and we’re planting on more diverse soil types. We’re going to have to concentrate on cheaper production without sacrificing quality.”
Erick Smith took the reins as the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension blueberry specialist back in April, a position that has been unfilled for five years in the state. Before coming to Georgia, he was a research associate at Washington State University.
He’s been out getting to know the industry and its growers. “Right now, as I understand it from my conversations with people in the blueberry industry, many farmers worry about market saturation, which can lower returns to the farm,” Smith said.
“This allows for many opportunities to develop a program focused on plant health, production efficiencies and fruit quality. I see, going forward, very exciting challenges.”