By Clint Thompson
The increased marketing and promotion effort from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) has helped offset some of the lost market share by Florida growers due to increased trade from Mexico.
“The Florida blueberry industry has been through the ups and downs that the rest of agriculture in the U.S. has been through. One of the most difficult things that we’ve been dealing with is increased production in our window. It used to be three weeks of the year where we were the only fresh blueberries in the world. Now we have blueberries coming in from several other countries and even other states, directly impacting our market window,” said Brittany Lee, executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. “We’ve worked very closely with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, who through their efforts with marketing and promotion, have increased demand 700% over the last several years.
“With USHBC very focused on increasing demand, we have to continue to make sure blueberries are a staple in every household. I’m optimistic about Florida blueberries in the future. We’re the cornerstone of domestic production, being the first state of the year to produce.”
Florida’s bragging rights as the first state in production has been threatened by rising imports from Mexico. Its market share in blueberries was 2.7% compared to Mexico’s 18% in 2020, according to a recent report from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Florida’s blueberry sales decreased by 16.1% from 2012 to 2020. Florida produced 22 million pounds in 2020, compared to Mexican imports that netted 112 million pounds.
While imports don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, Florida producers can improve their value and efficiency with mechanical harvesters. It would reduce some need for H-2A workers which is the only way blueberry producers are going to be sustainable, says Lee.
“The future of the industry for Florida is going to be dependent on becoming a little bit more mechanical, using all of the technological advancements to our best; becoming more efficient,” Lee said.