Demand for frozen blueberries pushes up value

High consumption revitalizes growers; British Columbia exports loom

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

ALBANY, Ore. -- Yields aren't what they had hoped, but high prices in the frozen market have propped up grower spirits as Oregon's blueberry harvest crests the halfway point.

"Yields are down, but the price is up," blueberry grower-packer Roy Malensky said. "Growers are going to do much better than a year ago."

Earlier this year growers worried that high stocks and new acreage would drive down prices for a third consecutive year. But strong consumption, crop damage in the Northeast and spotty West Coast yields are combining to limit supplies and increase the value of the new crop.

"We had some of the best consumption we ever had last year," blueberry grower Doug Krahmer said.

Crop damage in the Northeast is projected to cut lowbush blueberry production by nearly a third: from 226 million pounds last year to between 144 million and 169 million pounds this year.

Oregon yields also appear off, but not nearly as dramatically. Krahmer said yields of the early-season Duke variety were down about 10 percent on his farm, due primarily to rain that limited pollination this spring.

Malensky said Duke yields in Washington County were down as much as 20 percent due to poor pollination and hail damage from a storm that hit the area in early June.

Prices, meanwhile, are in the 70- to 80-cent range for frozen, double the 40 cents a pound growers were getting last year for processed blueberries.

Fresh prices were a little soft, due to a plethora of British Columbia blueberries entering the fresh market in recent weeks. Growers adapted by moving some fresh berries into the frozen market and storing some for later-season sale.

Growers were unsure what the late-season fresh market could bring, but most expected prices to be strong in September.

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