Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on July 18, 1997. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Growers Have Record Blueberry Harvest
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- State blueberry farmers raised a record- breaking crop this year, but persistent rains have limited the amount sold as fresh fruit.
Dr. John Braswell, Mississippi State University extension horticulturist, estimated state growers will harvest 5.3 million pounds of blueberries this year. This tops 1995's record 4.6 million pounds. In 1996, a freeze cut the state's harvest to less than 800,000 pounds.
"We've had an excellent crop this year, but because of rains, much of it will be sold as frozen berries rather than fresh," Braswell said.
The Miss-Lou Blueberry Growers Co-Op in Poplarville sells about half the state's blueberries and accounts for about 90 percent of the fruit's wholesale market, Braswell said. This year, the co-op sold almost 644,000 pounds of fresh fruit, compared to 1.2 million pounds in 1995. The co-op is expected to sell about 2 million pounds of frozen berries, up from 1.1 million pounds sold in 1995.
"We had rain every day during the season and that really hampered our ability to pack the blueberries fresh," Braswell said.
With daily rain, blueberries load up with water and leak juice when picked. If sold fresh, the berries can get sticky and mold at the store. However, these berries can be washed, packed and frozen. Quality stays high, but the selling price drops.
Braswell said fresh berries sold for $14.09 a flat, or $1.28 a pound, this year. Frozen berries are expected to sell for about 80 cents a pound, which is a good price for the frozen fruit.
"Last year's freeze wiped out a lot of the blueberries so few berries were frozen," Braswell said. "Going into this season, everyone was pretty much sold out."
Most growers sell as many fresh blueberries as possible at the higher prices, and then sell the rest in the frozen market.
Blueberry season opened the last week of May on the state's 1,700 acres of commercial farms. The fresh market closed July 9 in the southeastern part of the state where about 85 percent of the farms are located. Blueberries will continue to be put in the freezer until the season ends July 25.
"Our peak season is the last week of May until the Fourth of July," Braswell said. "Around July 4, fruit from the north enters the market and prices start to drop."
To take advantage of the earlier season in Mississippi, growers are targeting varieties that will be in full production during this market window.