Opinion: midsummer fresh blueberry review in North America
August 28, 2014

By Fall Creek Farm and Nursery manager Cort Brazelton

Last week I had a brief interview with www.freshfruitportal.com offering some commentary on the Northern Hemisphere season. I’d like to add some additional clarification regarding the current North American season with a more detailed treatment of the situation in the different regions.FALL-CREEK-Cort-Brazelton-c2012-1

As our industry continues to grow and volumes increase in an effort to meet ever rising demand, there are inevitably going to be cathartic periods. Good information and intelligence can be valuable as everyone seeks to make informed decisions. It’s peak season in North America and it’s a good time for a quick overview of the state of affairs.

Summer Volumes

The crop of early and mid-season varieties in British Columbia (BC) and the state of Washington have been good this year. Both the states of Oregon in Michigan have slightly lower or similar and lower crops respectively than the previous year. Oregon is quite early and Michigan measurably later. New Jersey looks to be down from last year.

British Columbia and Washington are seeing some particularly good crops. BC is finally seeing the crop they deserve after some tough weather in previous years.  While the total summer volumes may not be significantly up from last year, we will likely see an increase in the total crop sent both fresh and processed.


In the early and midsummer season, Duke is always the most concentrated early ripening variety with great fruit quality. As its harvest efficiencies tend to be higher, it’s common to see big volumes coming to the packhouse which can be a challenge for any operation’s capacity.

With all this said our industry from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon to Michigan and New Jersey has increased packing capacity to meet this increased volume and this is good news. In the previous article I also mentioned the challenges with the variety Bluecrop. The main challenge this time of year is the comparative harvest cost and shelf life vis-a-vis some of the newer varieties.

What still needs to be recognized, and I failed to mention in the interview, is the great flavor this variety delivers to a consumer and exceptional yield a grower can achieve. That’s why this variety still remains one of the most planted in the world. Draper is looking best in Oregon and parts of Washington with firm fruit and high harvest efficiencies. Looking ahead to August and September we can anticipate to see more Legacy, Liberty, Elliott and Aurora on the shelves.

New vs. Traditional Varieties

In a maturing industry growing a semi-permanent crop, there will always be tension and new versus old genetics.  The challenge of what is known (for better or worse) versus less proven. No growing region is free of this struggle and the difference between varieties do stand out more as volumes increase in a maturing industry. These differences are starting to really stand out this season, particularly when considering grower economics and arrivals to customers and consumers.

Pricing and Commitments

Midsummer is peak season for Northern Highbush blueberries and pricing tends to reflect that. This year we are seeing a big range between program pricing, set in advance by organized professional marketers, and also product at lower and even open pricing.  This open pricing is not restricted to any region; on the contrary one can find fruit looking for a home from all summer producing regions this time of year.

No individual region or operation is a cause of chaos in the peak season – we are all in this one together.  It’s seasons like this when the professional marketers have opportunities to demonstrate their value proposition to a grower with well-planned and executed retail programs. These are the times when professional packers and marketers set themselves apart from the handlers who sell blueberries occasionally but are not invested in our industry.

Retail Pricing

While by no means a veritable researched fact, the coffee shops are filled with discussions about the wide spread between retail pricing to the consumer versus the prices paid to growers and handlers this summer. While there are no doubt great summer promotions delivering quality blueberries to consumers at attractive value this summer, one can also find prices for pints at a 3x-4x mark-up in stores.

High retail pricing at peak season slows movement and robs consumers the opportunity to enjoy the abundance of quality peak season fruit. The degree to which this is happening varies by retailer and region but is worth mentioning as opportunities for all parties are likely being missed.

2014 will likely see an increased global crop of blueberries reflecting the increased planting and demand of our healthy, delicious and easy-to-enjoy product. As my teething toddler reminds me often, growing pains are not pleasant and our industry is experiencing its fair share. With these changes we are starting to see the benefits of scale, professionalism and innovation as blueberries become a more global, accessible and common crop.

The next half of the season

The 2014 summer season is by no means over. Plenty of Legacy, Bluecrop, Liberty, Elliott and Aurora remain to be picked in many regions.  Michigan, BC and parts of Washington still have much of their crops ahead of them.  New Jersey will be winding down and Oregon with its early season this year is likely next to follow.

The lower overlap a between regions this year should contribute to a more orderly second half than previous years.  Expect the volumes to start staving off shortly.  Weather is pretty cooperative thus far (knock on wood) and quality looks good across North America. Even in the heat of the peak, there’s plenty of room for optimism.


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