With California’s blueberry season kicking off, the California Blueberry Commission’s executive director Todd Sanders looks forward to a promising season.
“We’re expecting a significantly larger crop than last year,” he says, adding the reasons for this are twofold.
“One, that it’s just a larger crop in general, I think a lot of the commodities, not just blueberries, but cherries, apples, everything in the state of California is going to be a little bit larger than normal – also, last year, we had about a 25% crop loss due to frost, maybe 30%,” he comments.
Yet, Sanders anticipates 2019’s volumes to not only exceed last year’s, but to surpass a typical season’s, explaining: “Compared to last year, we’re going to be 30% larger, but on average, we’re probably about 10-15% larger than we normally would be.”
He predicts California will see this increased production despite its late start to harvestings. Speaking on the delay, he says: “This year we’re running a little bit late…There’s been a little bit cooler weather…so we’re running about seven to ten days later than normal.
“Normally harvest in the south, southern California, would be starting to ramp up about a week or so ago, but… we’re just now starting to get our blueberries,” He adds.
As far as how the season’s later timeline might affect market conditions, Sanders notes: “everybody’s a little bit delayed”. He clarifies: “Mexico’s a little delayed, so their season is running into ours, and if we’re a little delayed, our season runs into Oregon, you know everybody’s just kinda pushed back a little bit.”
Meanwhile, he says blueberries across the state are beginning to “color up” in huge quantities and warmer weather is likely to hit California this week, with temperatures forecasted to rise above 32°C. As a result, growers are “going to see all these fresh high-quality blueberries coming off, not all at once, but at significant volumes. So, movement of the fruit is going to be paramount.”
He emphasizes that organic blueberries are going to reign supreme this year, with the category’s expected volume to be “almost double” its total in 2018.
“I think you’re going to continually see the organic category grow, to what level that is sustainable I’m not sure, but it’s going to continually grow just as the market, especially domestic and especially in California demands it.”
According to Sanders, part of this can be attributed to a new method of blueberry cultivation – substrates. Rather than wait years for soil to be suitable enough to earn the “organic” label, many Californian growers are planting blueberries in substrates, which are above ground. This allows farmers to grow organics quickly to meet the rising demand for the commodity.
While Sanders says this demand in nationwide, he adds: “California is really driving that organic category and it’s only going to continually grow…the Californian consumer is definitely geared towards wanting more and more organic food and this is something that is filling that need.”
Sanders believes other categories will do well, though, remarking: “We’re looking forward to a positive and a strong season this year. I know that the berries that have initially started coming off…are good quality, good color, good size, and so I anticipate that trend to continue”.