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Delayed harvest hurting blueberry growers

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Despite high yields and good-quality berries, a delayed harvest and low prices are impacting blueberry growers.

Blueberry growers started harvesting in late May and early June, about two weeks behind schedule.

“The prolonged cold winter delayed blooming. We usually see blooms the last week of February, but blooms didn’t appear this year until the third week of March,” said John Braswell, Mississippi State University horticulture specialist at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. “Once it got warm, everything came in at once, and growers are scrambling a bit to get it all harvested.”

Braswell said that with so much fruit ripening at once, more pickers are needed to harvest the berries. This year, however, there is a significant shortage of workers.

Another obstacle blueberry growers face this season is lower prices.

“Prices are down because a large volume of New Jersey berries entered the market before Mississippi berry farmers could get their crop harvested,” Braswell said. “Right now, wholesale prices are $14 a flat, about $1.40 a pound.”

Braswell said Mississippi produced 4.7 million pounds of blueberries in 2009 at a value of around $6.4 million.

There is still a chance for Mississippi growers to compete in the market, and for prices to go up.

“Yields are good and the blueberries are of excellent quality,” Braswell said. “There is still time for catching up and growers are putting in the work to do just that.”

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