Market Update

“Blueberries in general did very, very well this year,” said blueberry nurseryman and industry expert Dave Brazelton, owner of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery in Lowell, Oregon. “Huge, record crop in California, records in Oregon and Washington, record in B.C.” He added that national numbers also look like a record.

Narrowing it down to Oregon, Brazelton said that growers in the Beaver State received “record or near-record” returns on their crops.

Asian Demand Exploding

Brazelton said growing demand in Asia, mainly for frozen product (“that demand seems to be exploding”), has helped drive up production and prices, especially for West Coast producers.

From his nurseryman’s viewpoint, Brazelton said that while there is still interest in new plantings, “it’s certainly more moderated than it was five years ago, when it really peaked in the Northwest. I think that’s a function of the overall economy, the availability of credit, lots of factors.”

He added that unlike five years ago there are not a lot of “new faces” entering the industry, with most of the growth coming from existing growers “with a clear goals and plans.”

Himself surprised by the lack of elasticity, Brazelton said that he would not have thought that sales would remain good as America slumped into the recession. “Consumers have given up a lot of things, but not their blueberries.”

Dark Cloud

But there is a dark cloud on the blueberry horizon, Brazelton said, and that is the ultimate consequences for unfulfilled demand for frozen product in 2011. “Frozen was really under-served this year, even with the addition of significant frozen product from Chilê, and that caused the (frozen) price to go very, very high.”

There is serious concern about this because, as is the case with hazelnuts when prices are high, food processors using blueberries in their products will look for cheaper alternatives, such as frozen strawberries. Food processors may also choose to use fewer blueberries in their formulations.

“These high yet volatile prices may have been great for growers this year, (but) it’s not great if we are trying to expand consumption. It doesn’t send the right message and it’s very difficult for new users to maneuver through that.”

As most in the industry know, it’s processed prices that greatly influence what the floor prices will be for fresh product, Brazelton said. “If fresh returns aren’t adequate, the risk is higher in fresh so they change from fresh to process.” This is more of an issue in peak-season, he added.

What can growers expect next year?

“On the one hand, with a large Chilêan crop and very high prices depressing demand, that would indicate lower processed prices next year,” Brazelton said. The flip side of that, he added, is demand from Asia, which may not depress prices at all.

Personally, Brazelton thinks prices will drop “slightly” in 2012.

Brazelton said that there has been a lot of interest in the newer mid-season variety Draper. “It has performed really, really well. The berries are very firm. It can be machine harvested and they’re very high producing. Growers are finding they’re as good as Duke (an early variety) if not better.”

Two other Michigan State-bred varieties, Aurora (late maturing) and Liberty, “fill time slots that growers really want.”

“Could Have Been Better”

Packer/shipper Jeff Malensky of Oregon Berry Packing Company said that 2011 could have been even better had it not been a late season due to weaker pollinations in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, as was the case with other Willamette Valley crops.

“We were two and a half weeks later than normal. For the 12 years I’ve been here, two-and-half weeks late, that’s never happened.” Subsequently, early market sales in July, which bring higher prices, were not there.

“We still have a very active fresh market,” said Malensky. “These new markets like Korea, we need them because production continues to go up. The amount of acres put in the ground the last five years are not even close to maturity.”

Malensky said that because frozen market demand has been strong and prices high, “we fresh guys (in Oregon) had to really be competitive and put out a high price.”


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Oregon Blueberry Commission • P.O. Box 3366 • Salem, Oregon 97302
Paid for by the Oregon Blueberry Commission, an agency of the State of Oregon.