President's Letter: We’re Coming to a Crossroads

It’s no secret that Florida Blueberry growers are facing ever-increasing challenges to the well-being of our industry. Despite the nicely expanding demand for blueberries, this positive trend is swamped by a massive explosion of imported fruit flooding our coveted early domestic market. Despite the progress made by the USHBC in capturing a larger “share of mind” with consumers, convincing more and more people of the convenience and health benefits of blueberries, it is not enough to turn the tide. An increase of tens of millions of pounds of fruit from other countries is a tidal wave inundating our short market window resulting in much lower prices even as the cost of producing quality, food-safe Florida fruit pressures our growers. 

This trend is set to continue and whether we like it or not we are coming to a crossroads. Some growers have decided to throw in the towel, which I hope will not become a disturbing trend. I am optimistic most of us will not be discouraged and choose to stay the course. Throughout history, farmers have worked hard and adapted to serious challenges. If we decide to, we can turn our fortunes around in favor of our Florida blueberry farms.

So what direction do you want to take? I submit that we, as the Florida blueberry grower industry, need to adopt a “few critical priorities.” Tackling these industry challenges in a meaningful way will require a higher level of commitment, both in industry effort and resources. 

To get the ball rolling, I might suggest these “few critical priorities” as industry candidates:

  • Improving productivity and quality through research and education

  • Implementing better crop forecasting tools

  • Developing more effective trade and legislative approaches

  • Increasing consumer demand for truly Fresh Florida blueberries

Likewise, I encourage our individual growers to focus on their own few critical priorities. Hopefully, they are aligned with fellow growers and the industry as a whole. 

As an individual grower, a “few critical priorities” I might suggest are:

  • Ramping up production innovation and technology to lower costs of labor, nutrition, water and crop protection

  • Upgrading to improved varieties for higher yield, better timing, machinability and  fruit quality

  • Adopting better data capture and information tools to drive better, faster decisions

  • Developing better relationships with food chain decision-makers

There are other, likely better, priorities to focus on in the coming years. Our Florida blueberry industry needs to choose which road to turn down pretty soon. Please set your farm’s “few critical priorities” and help our grower industry make the right turn as we enter the intersection.

Leonard Park, President

Florida Blueberry Growers Association    

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