It is no secret that we are up against another challenging season.  The lack of chill throughout our state has caused our crop to be slow and most of it will be ripening later than our traditional harvest time.

All reports indicate that our neighbors to the north are running on time and may even be a little early this year.

A lot of fruit is going to hit the market at an unusual time this year.  What can we, as growers, do to mitigate this problem?

  • First of all, harvest every day if you can. A days harvest activities, once lost, can never be recovered.  I realize this is tough if you have to depend on crew leaders or other labor contractors for your workers, but make every effort to get as much fruit off the bush as early as possible.  Even a day’s delay means more culls and may even push your harvest revenue into the next pool week.  Communicate with your labor and make sure they understand the importance of daily harvest.
  • Communicate with your marketer so they know the volume you will be picking each day. Most of us prepare harvest estimates on a daily or weekly basis, but all of us have forecast picking a few thousand pounds one day only to show up at the dock with almost double that.  If you see that your number is going to be significantly different than your forecast, let your marketer know as soon as possible.  Re-assess each day after a few rows have been picked, do the math and report the new anticipated total to your broker early in the day.  Your broker can then update his sales plan to accommodate the extra fruit.  An unexpectedly full cooler on Monday morning can mean a drastic drop in price, so get as much info to your marketer as soon as you know the harvest total may change.
  • I know everyone wants to limit costs as much as possible every season, but stay on top of your SWD, snail, and fungicide program. A lot of growers had problems last year with SWD and garden snails in their fields causing more culled fruit and even early harvest termination at some farms.  Anthracnose on the fruit also was a significant problem in some areas and this fungus is very difficult, if not impossible, to control once established in your crop.  If you cannot get your sprayer through the field for fear of knocking off fruit, there are several aerial spraying companies now that cater to blueberry growers.  The airplanes can spread snail bait, and spray fungicides and pesticides for SWDs and other pathogens in a very cost efficient manner.  There is a lot of benefit to getting your entire farm sprayed in an hour versus a day or two for control of these pests.  Getting sprays done quickly also helps with harvest scheduling too because you only have to be idle for a short time while the aerial spraying is done and most of the products we use only have a one day PHI.
  • Plan a “You Pick” operation, if your location and farm layout can be made to work for public harvest. Getting the last of the fruit off the bush with little or no labor cost will help add needed revenue this season.  Use social media and other forms of advertising to let the public know your blueberries will be available for them to pick during a fun family outing.  If you are located near large population areas it will be easier to attract you pick customers, but even remotely located farms may want to give it a try this year to help glean the fields for some extra income.  The FBGA web site has a portal for you to add your farm for you pick operations and is one of the most popular destinations on the site.

I am sure there are other things that can be done to meet the challenge this year.  We are innovators and have always met obstacles to our success.  I am confident that we will see some unique ideas to adapt and overcome this season.  We strive and persevere to do better every day.  That is part of our commitment to being in agriculture.

One of the things I have talked about in the past is the need for a crop forecast system for blueberries in Florida.  If we know the “when” and “how much” about our crop each year, it makes it far easier to plan for a large or small volume of fruit.  Large volumes can be pre-sold, which will remove some of the surprise and negative market reaction to a harvest peak.  If we have a light season, the fruit can be sold at higher prices because of the limited availability.  Crop forecast makes the job of the grower and marketers much easier.

I have been working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the past few months to find a way to make this happen.  I am happy to report that we have a commitment from Commissioner Putnam and his staff to help us in this effort.  The FDACS marketing team is committed to working with the Florida Blueberry Growers Association to identify and develop a successful crop forecasting system to assist in making timely and informed marketing decisions.

We have to do our part in getting the crop forecast system going.  The accurate information we need from all growers is quite limited, but of great importance:

  • Farm Name
  • Location(s)
  • Number of acres
  • Varieties planted
  • Density
  • Age of plantings
  • Bloom stage each season for your crop

With this simple data, plus variety specific heat unit information from the breeders and weather data from our Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN), we may be able to have a crop forecast system up and running as soon as next season.

Our friends at the University of Florida have agreed to help us in this effort too.  We need to develop systems to compile process and disseminate the information and that means researchers from the meteorological department to computer sciences will be involved in this process.

The dependability of final crop forecast primarily depends on the accuracy of data we get from you, the growers, so when you are contacted by the survey team, please take the time to provide them with your operation’s information.

A fully developed and accurate crop forecast system will mean a lot to our bottom line over the coming years.

Your FBGA Executive Committee and Board of Directors remain committed to helping our industry grow and thrive.  We all volunteer our time to serve you, the growers.  Please contact us if we can be of assistance to you in any way.

As always, I wish everyone a safe and profitable season.

Dudley Calfee

President, Florida Blueberry Growers Association