North Carolina is consistently among the top five or six blueberry producing states in the country, though commercial production is limited to eight or nine counties in the southeast section of the state.

Commercial blueberry production started in North Carolina in the 1920s and has been something akin to a forerunner of Vidalia onions and other commercial crops, relegated because of soil-plant interactions to a specific area of a state.

Blueberry growers in New Jersey came to the Carolinas in the 1920s looking for land that met their needs for growing the crop. Long-time Blueberry Specialist and North Carolina State University researcher Bill Cline says they found plenty of “bad” land in southeastern North Carolina.

“When I say bad land, I mean land that would be good for blueberries, but bad for most other crops,” Cline says. Blueberries grow best in porous, well-drained acid soils with a pH below 5, with abundant organic matter, and water near the surface.

In most areas of commercial blueberry production in North Carolina water is typically only 12 to 30 inches below the soil surface, he says.  Soils are coarse, unstained white sand mixed with black organic matter, giving a ‘salt and pepper’ appearance.

In many areas of the Southeast ‘salt and pepper’ land is considered poor land, but for commercial blueberry growers, salt and pepper soils are ideal for growing their crop.

Most farmers like to see the rich reds and browns in their soil, but the black and white color of salt and pepper soils centered around Bladen County, N.C., have proven ideal for commercial blueberry production, Cline says.

The North Carolina State researcher and Extension specialist, whose work is closely supported by the North Carolina Blueberry Council, has devoted much of his 30-year professional career to improving blueberry production in the state. He says the moniker ‘Blueberry Guru’ may be a little much, but clearly he is a ‘go-to’ guy when it comes to both commercial and small market production of the crop.