Blueberry industry addresses looming imbalance between supply, demand
By STEVE BROWN
MOSSYROCK, Wash. -- Glenn Aldrich has been growing blueberries for 50 years, and for the past 20 or 30 years, he said, the industry has been "quite a success story."
But now, he said, producers face a new challenge.
Acreage and yield have increased on U.S. farms, and the per capita consumption has also increased significantly. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, annual per capita consumption has grown from a little less than 1 pound in 2000 to almost 2 pounds in 2009.
What worries Aldrich is all the blueberry plantings that will come into maturity the next couple of years.
"That per capita has to increase dramatically," he said.
The Highbush Council expects production to increase more than 38 percent by 2015. And the North American Blueberry Council figures that to maintain a balance between supply and demand, annual consumption will have to reach more than 3 pounds per capita, according to the North American Blueberry Council.
Along with the Highbush Council's continuing promotion of the berry's health benefits, development of new products is expected to boost consumption.
According to the NABC, North American food processors developed almost 1,000 new products in 2012, and worldwide processors -- including those in Asia, Europe and Latin America -- have turned out 3,200 products. New categories include juices, pet foods and cosmetics. Also frozen blueberries are going into consumer-size poly bags.
World highbush blueberry acreage grew from 50,000 acres in 1995 to more than 190,000 in 2010. More than half the acreage is in North America, followed by South America -- primarily Chile -- and European countries such as Poland, Germany and France.
According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the U.S. exported $125 million in fresh blueberries in 2012, up 17 percent from the previous year. Frozen blueberries totaled $69 million, up 39 percent. Canada was the No. 1 buyer, followed by Japan.
Still, the U.S. is a net importer of blueberries, importing $420 million in 2012, a 12 percent increase. More than half comes from Chile, which provides fresh berries during the winter. Canada provides 25 percent of fresh blueberries and more than half the frozen product.
Washington state's production of blueberries has grown in both pounds and in acres harvested.
In 2009, growers produced 39 million pounds on 4,800 acres; in 2010, 42 million pounds on 5,200 acres; and in 2011, 61 million pounds on 7,000 acres, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Most of the state's production is in Whatcom and Skagit counties, in northwestern Washington. More than a dozen growers operate between Everett and Mossyrock, a half-dozen in Eastern Washington and a half-dozen in Clark County, near Vancouver.
In 2012, the state ranked fourth in blueberry production, behind Michigan, Oregon and Georgia. But it led all other states in yield, producing more than 4 tons per acre, followed by Oregon, New Jersey, California and North Carolina.
* July 12-13 -- Oregon Berry Festival in Portland
* Aug. 2-4 -- Mossyrock Blueberry Festival
More information: www.pickyourown.org/BlueberryFestivals.php