Silverton, Ore. — Karl Dettwyler puts his farm first.
The manager of Blue Line Farms, member of the Oregon Blueberry Commission and father of two daughters, Dettwyler admits that he doesn’t know how he’s been able to balance his responsibilities.
“I think you have to have (attention deficit disorder) in order to handle it. It’s like putting fires out, you leave one smoldering until you have time to put it out,” he said.
Dettwyler has been on the blueberry commission for 2 1/2 years, and finds the organization valuable.
“On the farm anymore, if you want to be relevant, you need to be involved. My Uncle Bob taught me that it’s important to be involved in the industry,” he said. “You can’t complain if you’re not involved, and I see a lot of growers grumble about this or that but never take the step to be involved.”
The commission was established in 1986 and consists of nine members. The terms are three years with a limit of two consecutive terms. There are 353 growers, and this year the commission is estimating a harvest of 118 million pounds of blueberries.
Blue Line Farms hand-picks around 6,000 pounds of blueberries a year.
The farm employs five people full-time, including himself, his brother and his cousin. His uncle and father also work part-time.
Dettwyler enjoys getting to know people through the commission and helping address problems that other growers are having.
“All of a sudden you hear a commissioner talk about the problems and challenges he’s having, and even though we’re both blueberry farmers, because of soil tops and their access to labor versus my access to labor, we’re always learning,” he said. “I’m learning from him, and he’s learning from me, too, hopefully, and together we can help the whole industry.”
Beyond blueberries, Blue Line Farms also grows turf type grasses such as perennial rye grass and tall fescue, green beans and hazelnuts.
However, 7.5 percent of the farm is blueberries. The varieties he grows include Elliot, Liberty, Legacy and Aurora. Legacy is his favorite.
Dettwyler said the most reward part of farming is “seeing a crop come to fruition.”
“There’s challenges, but seeing the different challenges and rewards, and being able to eat the fruit when it’s blue. There’s one variety out there that’s so sweet and I love it,” he said about the Legacy variety.
Although the blueberry industry has been booming in recent years because of recent health studies revealing the benefits of eating blueberries, Dettwyler has noticed the market leveling off.
“There are ways of mitigating risk, but it depends on how innovative you are,” he said. “If you sit back and say ‘that’s the market’ and don’t do anything innovative, you’re going to have to ride out the highs and the lows, if you can.”
His innovative examples included a roadside blueberry stand or talking to a different packer or to the commission about new ways to promote blueberries.
Dettwyler encourages farmers to get involved and share their story.
“There’s a rural versus city divide,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things people don’t understand about agriculture, and we want to get people to understand why we do what we do.”