Warmer-than-normal conditions during late fall and winter delayed the onset of dormancy and resulted in very low winter chill accumulation. The unusually warm winter, combined with an El Niño climate phase (cloudy and cool conditions during our fruit set and development phase), were major factors delaying harvest of the 2016 Florida blueberry crop.
As a result, we were later than we have ever been on our harvest, which meant our fruit hit the market at an unusual time this year.
Many of you lost entire fields to weather events like wind and hail storms, and packing facilities closed down early due to low volumes of fruit. Because Georgia did not experience the same issues we faced, their harvests ran on time and took most of our experienced laborers.
It is important that you know your Executive Committee and Board of Directors are committed to finding assistance for our members. We have been in close communication with Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam’s office. The majority of your Board of Directors was also on a conference call with the commissioner and his executive team, who expressed concern and a willingness to help in any way they could. We are currently working closely with them to get answers to questions involving insurance, bonding, credit lines, and loans. While there is not much they are able to do at the state level, they are helping us navigate the USDA to see if there is any assistance available to our members on the federal level. We will also be having a meeting with our friends at UF/IFAS to see if there is any assistance to be had there.
It is important that everyone report their losses to their local Farm Service Agency, as well as their insurance carrier, of course. Losses of 30 percent or more technically qualify as a disaster, opening opportunities for the USDA to help us out. A list of contacts is included in this edition. Growers anticipating help from their insurer should know that benefits are usually not paid out until September or October and they should adjust their cash flow forecasts accordingly.
Commissioner Putnam’s office has been promoting U-Pick Blueberry Season in Florida on social media and radio for several weeks. The primary target area is Central Florida, Tampa and Gainesville/Ocala. I hope you had the opportunity to get some of the last of the fruit off the bush with little or no labor cost due to this effort by the Commissioner’s office. It will add needed revenue this season. Remember that the FBGA website has a portal for you to add your farm for u-pick operations and is one of the most popular destinations on the site.
The most important thing to remember right now is that one bad year does not kill an industry. We are innovators and have always met obstacles to our success. We will overcome this season and grow and learn from it.
Your FBGA Executive Committee and Board of Directors remain committed to helping our industry grow and thrive. As part of that commitment, you’ll nd some informative articles in this edition, including the following topics:
- An updated excerpt from the 2015 UF/IFAS Florida Blueberry Integrated Pest Management Guide, focusing on postharvest management and fungicide classes
- An informative research article, from UF/IFAS experts Jeff Williamson and Gary England, which compares this season’s effects of weather to previous years
- A feature article focusing on financial considerations in light of this season’s challenges
- A look at blueberry crop insurance and the Florida blueberry market
- A list of contacts and resources for growers on the Grower 411 department page
Last year’s harvest season is behind us now and we are beginning our summer growing season. At this time, it is vital that we pull together, stay positive, and do everything in our power to make sure next year’s harvest is a productive one.
As always, I wish everyone a safe summer growing season and success in meeting the challenges of this past season.
Florida Blueberry Growers’ Association