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Blueberries Set Records
By Moira Brodnax
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Improved efficiency, favorable weather and new technology contributed to a record-breaking blueberry harvest for Mississippi producers this year.
Mississippi blueberry producers who are members of the Miss-Lou Blueberry Growers Association harvested 2 million pounds of blueberries during the state's prime harvesting period.
Harvesting of about 1,000 acres began in May and continued until the second week of July, with most varieties finished by July 4.
Dr. John Braswell, extension horticulture specialist in Poplarville, said these figures do not account for the additional 500 acres of blueberries in the state from which growers market to local stores and roadside stands.
Association members posted a 1.57 million pound blueberry crop in Mississippi in 1994.
This year's record-breaking yields will provide consumers with 1.05 million pounds of fresh blueberries and 1 million pounds of frozen blueberries. The previous record was more than 1.66 million pounds of blueberries harvested in 1992.
Prices for fresh berries have remained steady for the past eight years, with an average of $12 a flat. One flat is measured as about 10 pounds or 12 pints of fresh berries.
"Prices have been fantastic this year," said Jerry Hutto, co-owner of Amber's Blueberry Farm in Wayne County. "Producers like the prices to remain stable."
Hutto received more than $12 a flat from his 32,000 pounds of berries harvested from 6 acres of marketable plants.
The favorable weather conditions throughout the growing season and the dry weather during harvest helped producers achieve these record yields. Also, as the blueberry plants age, yield per plant increases.
"The good weather growers experienced this year helped tremendously with the record harvest," Hutto said. "Last year we had a lot of rain which hurt yields."
New technology and improved efficiency also played key roles in Mississippi's record blueberry harvest.
"Growers are becoming more efficient and are using new technology and mechanical harvesting equipment which have helped them increase their harvest volume," Braswell said.
Profit margins will increase as use of mechanical harvesters and mechanical grading speeds up the process of preparing berries for market.
"Mechanical harvesting costs producers about 8 cents a pound compared to 30 cents a pound for hand-picked," Braswell said.
Midges caused limited damage in some areas of the state, but no crops were destroyed. Midges have not been a problem for Mississippi producers in past years.
"Producers will need to be on the lookout for midge damage next spring," Braswell said. "Midge problems result after mild winter weather in the blueberry producing areas of Mississippi."
The newest addition to the blueberry industry in Mississippi is the Nature's Wonders processing plant located in Collins. The blueberry processing plant which began business in June houses the latest equipment for processing both fresh and frozen fruit.
Dean Daughdrill, president of Nature's Wonders, said in their first year of production the plant averaged 10,000 pounds of fresh and frozen fruit processed a day.
"Nature's Wonders saw the need for a processing plant in a central location for Mississippi's smaller volume producers who did not have their own processing equipment," Daughdrill said. "We were able to met the needs of many blueberry producers and hope this year's success will encourage others to give us the opportunity to do their custom processing work."