It’s no secret that this season has had its own unique challenges. We have been on high alert on the farms since Hurricane Irma made landfall and haven’t had a break since. Many growers across Florida reported severe damage from the storm immediately afterward. To add to our challenges, we were hit by some late-winter / early spring cold fronts that left many of us without sleep and running the overhead irrigation to prevent freeze damage in the field. These are just the circumstantial challenges, though.
As a state, we are at a turning point for the industry when it comes to production. We face competition for the entire duration of our season that threaten the economic viability of Florida blueberries. Case and point— we feel production pressures at the beginning of our season from South American in March followed by Georgia at the tail end of our season in May. Add to that the incredible (and very rapid) expansion of major acreage in Mexico, and we have constant and extreme production pressures throughout the season.
Add to Mother Nature and worldwide competition the challenges of pests and disease, and there’s no denying that we have a lot of hurdles to overcome. Growers across the state are reporting widespread gall midge damage on virtually all varieties, but that’s not going to stop us from producing a quality product that people love. As an industry and as your Florida Blueberry Growers Association (FBGA), we are facing these challenges head-on.
The silver lining is that research coming out of the University of Florida PIE Center says we have the competitive edge, despite all of these challenges. Recent PIE Center surveys reveal that consumers are more likely to choose blueberries from Florida when available in stores over other blueberries.
Plus, marketing efforts targeted to build consumer demand, such as through blueberriesfromflorida.com, are helping raise awareness and win more Florida blueberry fans daily. This gives us the competitive edge that we need to keep innovating and producing a quality fruit that far surpasses our opposition.
In addition, I want to assure you that as the FBGA, we are making forecasting a top priority. We must recognize that without a forecast system to predict yield, we are losing valuable market share with retailers, causing a reduction in price and profit loss to the grower. Accurately predicting our statewide production and informing retailers of the volume and availability during our production window will ensure that we can remain competitive.
In this edition of The Blueberry News, you’ll read about resources and best practices that will continue to help you as we work to overcome these challenges. 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. I wish everyone a safe and profitable season.
Britany H Lee, President
Florida Blueberry Grower’s Association