Blueberries in production surge in state, county

By Calvin Bratt
[email protected]

WHATCOM ­— Blueberries are in such a growth pattern in Washington State that the challenge may be where to go with all the production.

Acres planted in Whatcom County are estimated at 7,000, leading among the more than 18,000 acres statewide, said Alan Schreiber, administrator of the Washington Blueberry Commission, in Lynden on Nov. 30. The overall 2016 harvest, soon to be finalized, is likely to come in at around 120 million pounds, six times what it was 10 years ago, he said.

He expects Whatcom’s 2016 production to be around 48 million pounds

Schreiber was one presenter in the well-attended Small Fruit Conference and Lynden Ag Show occupying Washington Tractor Arena on the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds from Wednesday through noon Friday, Dec. 2.

The annual event draws attendees from across the spectrum of those involved in all aspects of the berry growing industry locally. It’s an opportunity to catch up on all that can be reported on the state of the regional berry industries including promotion, research, hands-on practices, pesticides, land management and technology.

Blueberries are rising in Whatcom County to the point that tonnage could eclipse what has long been the dominant berry crop, red raspberries.

While the raspberry continues to find new fans of its distinct color and flavor, the blueberry has ridden a tide of worldwide acclaim for its healthful qualities over the past decade.

Schreiber, speaking to his growers’ commission meeting on Wednesday, estimated that full production from blueberry plantings already in the ground could push Washington past 200 million pounds in a few years.

About three-fourths of blueberries and nearly all of raspberries produced in the Northwest end up being processed to be ingredients in other foods, not for fresh eating.

At the annual meeting of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission on Thursday, it was reported that this year’s record harvest of 78 million pounds — after a much lower 52.8 million in 2015 — will allow a $405,000 budget for next year. Over half of that amount goes to horticultural research projects to help growers.

The promotion of raspberries to consumers has been taken over by the National Processed Raspberry Council, which began in 2013. (see below)

In general sessions of the Small Fruit Conference:

• Two representatives of the Washington State Patrol got very specific about weight limits and the proper securing of loads of berries when being transported on public roads.

• Derek Sandison, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture since June 2015, spoke to various issues of concern to Whatcom farmers. He said he processes to get to solutions.

In particular, on competition for water rights and water supply for agriculture, Sandison favors “growing the supply pie” so there is enough water for all users rather than “bucket-for-bucket mitigation.” He hopes for some legislative fixes in the 2017 state session.

• Two from the firm of Bryant Christie updated on prospects for increased export of blueberries into Asian markets. Efforts in Pacific Rim countries have been under a contract with the Washington Blueberry Commission.

The issue of maximum residue limits (MRLs) on imported fruit is a big factor determining access into many countries, with Korea and Taiwan being among the toughest and China being less stringent. The apparent failure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with a Trump administration, means adverse effects upon trade with Japan and Vietnam, at least, said Matthew Lantz.

Although Washington is well positioned to market into the Pacific region, a tariff or trade war would not be good, he said.

• Sessions Friday morning covered many aspects of water rights and access issues for agriculture. The prevailing sentiment may have been voiced in the question of a millennial grower who, after hearing all the discussion, said he wants to be in farming, but is there enough certainty to commit his next 20 to 40 years to it?

National Council

Veteran Lynden berry grower John Clark was reelected to a third year chairing the council, which met Nov. 29-30 in the Jansen Center downtown.

Seven members of the National Processed Raspberry Council are from the United States and five from importing countries, reflecting approximately the 57-to-43 ratio of domestic and foreign berries in the U.S. market.

A budget of about $2.4 million in 2017 will continue to be spent on health studies and research, and market promotion of red raspberries. Tom Krugman is the executive director.

Allison Beadle, marketing consultant with the council, spoke also at the Small Fruit Conference, enthusiastically praising the red raspberry and the response to it she often gets in taste tests at trade shows. “Your head explodes, they are so amazingly delicious,” she said. And food service people and health professionals are embracing what can be done with processed raspberries, from frozen to pureed.