Temperatures were reported as low as 22 degrees as far south as the Florida line. Add in a very warm winter to the mix, and it creates one hectic season for blueberry growers in Georgia.
Charles Hall, executive director for the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said that one of the main problems this year was the very warm winter. “Particularly blueberries and peaches were 10 to 14 days further along than their normal production pattern,” Hall said.
There were a lot more semi-mature and mature fruit on the plants than there had been in the past. So when the late freeze came, there were more berries than usual for it to zap, which caused loss numbers to rise. Hall said the blueberry industry estimates a 60 to 70 percent loss of the total crop.
“The rabbiteye crop was pretty wiped out,” Hall said. He stated that there is an 80 to 90 percent loss in rabbiteye blueberries.
With highbush blueberries, Hall pointed out that some growers had overhead irrigation freeze protection, which helped them. The loss in highbush berries varied, ranging between 20 to 40 percent and 50 to 60 percent in different areas.
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black stated, “We saw blueberry fields that had the potential to be the biggest and best crop of Georgia’s production history that you would now not be able to find enough blueberries that survived the cold to make one pie.”
There originally was expected to be a harvest of around 110 million pounds, but now only a 30- to 35-million-pound harvest is predicted.
“It is a pretty tough situation as far as how the freeze affected us,” Hall concluded.
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