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Agribiz: Georgia blueberry crops continue to impress
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About the Georgia Blueberry Commission
In 2009, the Georgia Department of Agriculture formed the Georgia Blueberry Commission as a program to support research, education and promotion on behalf of the state’s growers. Georgia claims the longest season in the U.S., lasting from mid-April through the end of July to enjoy fresh Georgia blueberries — our very own “Sweet Georgia Blues.” For more information, recipes and background on Georgia blueberries, log onto www.GeorgiaBlueberries.org

Source: Georgia Blueberry Commission

Growing up in Georgia, everyone loves muscadines and blackberries, but here lately blueberries have taken the front seat and have really become the bright shining star of Georgia’s small fruit.

Blueberries, being native, have always been a component of our Southern forests. But with advances in plant breeding and improved production techniques, this fruit has taken marginal-to-decent land into property that can make a farmer a good living.

The acidic, sandy soils of Southeastern Georgia are ideal growing conditions for blueberries. Property owners now are putting land into blueberry plantings after harvesting their timber. Georgia’s relatively short winters are just long enough to let blueberry plants go dormant, and the long growing season allows Georgia farmers to maximize production.

In a little more than 10 years, Sweet Georgia Blues have become a major player in the global blueberry market. This season’s crop is expected to produce as much as 70 million pounds of blueberries from nearly 20,000 acres of orchards.

Thanks to the reported health benefits of blueberries and continued research, there has been an explosion of blueberry acreage in Georgia — an increase of 15 percent or more each year.

Georgia’s blueberry crop is growing so quickly it has been difficult for federal observers to keep pace. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports 14,000 acres of Georgia blueberries, the actual amount is probably closer to 20,000, notes Joe Cornelius, chairman of the Georgia Blueberry Commission.

“The USDA goes off of what the county extension agents turn in, so it’s always two to four years behind,” adds Cornelius. “There are dirt roads that were all timber and row crops a few years ago and now there are 10 to 20 acres of blueberries nobody knew about.”

Cornelius anticipates that Georgia’s total blueberry crop could increase to 24,000 to 26,000 acres within the next few years.

The global marketplace will also help determine the future of Georgia blueberries. While the state’s harvesting season typically lasts from mid-April through the end of July, competing states such as Michigan, New Jersey, Florida and countries such as Chile have crept into the growing window.

For more information about the Georgia Blueberry Commission, contact Lynn Kilroy at 813-610-3211, lkilroy@atthetablepr.com.

Source: Lynn Kilroy, At The Table Public Relations for the Georgia Blueberry Commodity Commission

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page and at gainesvilletimes.com.