National Blueberry Boom Means Price Bust For Northwest Farmers

Jul 17, 2013

North America’s blueberry crop is so substantial this year that farmers say prices are dropping. That’s after about a decade of rapid expansion of new plantings. Correspondent Anna King has our story from the blueberry fields of southeast Washington.

  The Northwest is one of the top producers of blueberries in the nation. July is the peak of harvest.

Dozens of workers at the Middleton Farm outside of Eltopia, Washington stoop over chest high rows of bushes. It’s hot, but they’re they’re bundled in hoodies, scarves, hats – anything to shield against the blazing sun.

Blueberries are some of the most profitable crops in Washington, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That explains why farms have been planting thousands of acres in the last decade. And the result this year?

Schreiber: “We’re having just record volumes of blueberries."

That’s Alan Schreiber, the head of Washington’s Blueberry Commission. He says all that supply pushes prices down.

Schreiber: “Last year Washington produced 70 million pounds of blueberries which was in itself a record. But this year we are estimating that we have 80 million pounds of blueberries, 10 million more pounds than last year.”

Oregon, New Jersey, Michigan and Canada are all flush with blueberries too. A mild winter and spring and some recent hot weather, have made the berries mostly ripen all at once. And that’s created a problem. Schreiber says a blueberry can last only about a month in cold storage once it’s picked. And grocery stores only have so much space.

Over in Prosser, Washington, I meet up with Suzanne Wolter. She’s with Rainier Fruit, one of the largest fruit growing and packing companies in the U.S. Wolter says the overall demand for blueberries remains strong, even if there is a glut right now.

Wolter: “It’s all cyclical. Should we be overly concerned about it? No. Should we go out and plant thousands of more acres? Probably not.”

Wolter says this all adds up to a boon for blueberry lovers this July.

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio