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Mississippi blueberry growers are harvesting strong crop
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippi’s fruit growers are harvesting about twice as many blueberries as they did last year, thanks largely to the lack of significant spring freezes.
John Braswell, Mississippi State University horticulture specialist at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said growers in south Mississippi have just passed the peak of the 2009 harvest season.
“We are looking at the potential for almost 8 million pounds of blueberries for the state this year, compared to 3.5 million pounds harvested last year,” Braswell said. “Those 2008 yields were hurt significantly by a spring freeze, but this year, we only had some minor freeze damage in low-lying fields.”
Greg Saulters, manager of Blue River Blueberry Farms in Mount Olive, said the freeze robbed him of about 50 percent of last year’s crop, but this year is looking even better than 2007, when yields were good.
“If you keep a close watch on the crop, you can control most of the problems that may impact yields,” he said.
Braswell said the quality of this year’s crop has made most berries suitable for fresh markets, instead of frozen berry markets, which translates into better profits for growers. Another bonus is that demand has been increasing in recent years as consumers become more aware of the health benefits of blueberries.
“Marketing programs have worked well for farmers. Groups are able to move fruit quickly. Growers also are using farmers’ markets and on-farm sales to sell their produce,” he said. “Blueberry festivals in Ocean Springs and Poplarville were well attended this year.”
While the bulk of Mississippi’s blueberry crop is in south Mississippi, Gerald Holifield, owner of Pontotoc Blueberry Ridge, said yields have been good so far. He has not reached the half-way point in the harvest.
Holifield is not connected with any of the grower cooperatives, such as the ones in south Mississippi. Instead, he sells his berries fresh in Memphis. He also sells at local produce markets and to individuals who come to his farm in Pontotoc County.
“The biggest challenge I have is from cranberry fruit worms, but they are controllable,” he said. “We don’t really have any disease problems with blueberries.”