Blueberries down but still sweet
A combination of weather, rain and timing could make a difference in the amount of blueberries that will be available for the 32nd Annual Blueberry Festival. According to Tom McMillan, president of the Escambia Blueberry Growers, Inc., the blueberry crop is expected to be somewhat reduced this year.
“We probably have half the amount of berries that we normally do,” McMillan said. “We didn’t have a lot of freezing weather this past winter, but we did have a late freeze and it happened at a critical time in the growth cycle. Bushes that bloomed after the freeze have been late and aren’t ready yet. I have seen lots of green berries still on the bushes.”
Art Dale, picking supervisor, said the lack of cold weather hasn’t hurt the sweetness or beauty of the berries.
“Blueberries need 600 to 900 chill hours every winter in order to produce well,” Dale said. “We didn’t have that this year so it has stunted the crop. The berries are beautiful this year, there are just going to be fewer of them.”
McMillan said there has been no shortage of pickers this year and workers have been processing even more berries than usual.
“We have had some new growers to join our group and we have been processing more berries,” he said. “We will still have blueberries to sell at the Blueberry Festival this year. They will be $25 per flat this year and we hope to have as many as we need.”
Dale said he has 25 to 30 pickers daily during the busy time of picking.
“We are averaging about 150 2-gallon buckets of berries per day with that many pickers,” Dale said. “We’re doing well so far this year.”
The Escambia Blueberry Growers, Inc. is a non-profit organization and all proceeds from sales are cycled back into the organization to be used to promote the blueberry industry.