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Hot, dry weather hurting Michigan blueberry crop
By KEVIN WALKER
Michigan Correspondent

HOLLAND, Mich. — Michigan’s blueberry crop is expected to take a hit this year because of unusually hot, dry weather.

“We’re at one or two pickings now,” said Ed Wheeler, horticultural manager and blueberry breeder for the Michigan Blueberry Growers Assoc., which represents half of the blueberry growers in the Great Lakes region. “We’ve had a lot of warm nights. It’s just the extra heat.”

Normally there are 3-4 blueberry pickings. According to Wheeler the harvest is down 25-30 percent from a year ago, and the season is shorter, with fewer pickings. The blueberries have “excellent flavor this year,” Wheeler added, because the extra heat produces more sugars.

Carol Bowerman, owner of Bowerman Blueberries in Holland, Mich., echoed Wheeler’s comments.

“It’s been a tough year because of the heat,” Bowerman said. “We’re down on some of the varieties 30-35 percent. The blue crop is down significantly. It’s two or three pickings.”

He grows 7-8 varieties of blueberries.

Wayne Kiel, owner of Blueberry Heritage Farms in Holland, was a little less pessimistic in his assessment of this year’s blueberry harvest.

“I’ve got a couple fields that are really good,” Kiel said. “We’re still picking at it.”

Kiel acknowledged that the size of the blueberries is small this year, but says the number of pickings at his farm is three to four, on a par with previous years. Kiel says the heat and dry weather have affected his crop negatively, but doesn’t know if his harvest will be down by the amounts projected, 25-30 percent. He also said that last year was an especially good one for blueberries.

Rainfall between April 1 and mid-August was nearly seven inches less than the average, said David Kleweno, director of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Michigan Field Office.

The average rainfall for this period is 14.14 inches, Kleweno said. This year the region got 7.75 inches of rainfall. During the past six weeks temperatures in the area have been 3-5 degrees above normal.

Cultivated blueberry production in Michigan was 80 million pounds in 2004, about 35 percent of the U.S. total. Growers harvested 17,400 acres in 2004. The farm level value was $97.21 million.

Overall, Michigan’s fruit production this year is expected to vary based on crop, variety and location. Sub-zero temperatures in January, a freeze in May, and localized drought throughout the summer negatively impacted some of the fruit, including blueberries.

Other crops were relatively unharmed, and even benefited from the reduced disease and insect pressure that accompanied the lack of rain.

Published in the August 24, 2005 issue of Farm World.

10/26/2005