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2014 Crop, Price "Mixed Bag"

Oregon’s 2014 blueberry crop was a “mixed bag,” according to several sources, as winter freezes combined with high summer temperatures to lower yields in several mid- and late-season varieties.

“It just got too hot and plants basically shut down,” said Oregon State University Berry Crops Extension Agent Wei Yang.

“Duke was pretty good for the first two pickings,” Yang added, “but if you had a third pick of Duke, into Drapers and Liberties, the size just wasn’t as good. The berries didn’t size up for Liberty and Aurora.

“Overall, it was kind of a mixed bag,” he said.

Mike Townsend of Townsend Farms echoed Yang’s “mixed bag” comment.

“For the most part, it was hit and miss,” Townsend said. “Some days we did good. Some days we didn’t do so good. I’d say overall, the volume was about even to last year.”

Townsend said he had more blueberries going into processed this year than last.

Jeff Malensky of Oregon Berry Packing gauged his overall volume at 15 percent below expectations and similar to last year’s.

“This year should have been higher numbers than last year,” he said.

“Fields that were established or getting established, we were expecting more volume than what we got last year,” Malensky said. “And the opposite was true. “We got less volume and a lot smaller fruit.

“It looked like there was a good fruit set, but that fruit did not set fully in size,” he said.

Like Yang, Malensky attributed the small fruit to heat. Although not blazing hot on any one day, Malensky said he heard that in the 45 days preceding August 15, Oregon experienced more days of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher than at any time in recorded history.

“I’d be surprised if we hit (the initial crop forecast of) 95 million pounds out of Oregon,” he said. “I think it will be closer to what we did last year (89.1 million pounds). “We had many fields this year that came in with far less volume than last year."

In addition to lowering volume, high temperatures sped ripening. Growers said their crops were two to three weeks ahead of normal.

“We were going hard by the 15th or 16th of June,” said Doug Krahmer of Berries Northwest. “We definitely started earlier than normal and we are finishing maybe three weeks ahead of schedule.”

One bit of good news about the temperature is it lowered spotted wing drosophila (SWD) pressure.

“We believe the cold weather that we had in December and then in February helped us out in keeping the quantity of SWD very low,” Malensky said. “And we believe the high temperatures this summer helped. If it is above 85 degrees, which it was for quite a few days this summer, they tend to die off or their reproduction cycle shuts down.”

Malensky said the fly’s population was just starting to spike as the later varieties were winding down.

Prices for the most part were better than last year on the early varieties, growers said. But when the British Columbia crop hit around mid-July, the prices took a nose dive, Krahmer said.

Prices have been back up since August 10, when the B.C. crop tailed off, he said.

“I think the marketers right now are quickly becoming aware that there is not September fruit out there to be had, because everybody’s crop was early this year,” Krahmer said.

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