Hope Springs Eternal

For many Florida growers, especially those whose farms took the brunt of Hurricane Ian, it was a tough year. Some had little or no crop. Some had half crops. Few, if any, made their usual volume of production. Enough damage hit our warmer regions to make this year’s Florida blueberry crop one of the smallest in years.

For others who escaped Ian’s wrath, it was a fair year at best. A no-chill December followed by two really cold snaps by New Year’s played havoc with many hydrogen cyanamid crops, causing bud development issues and harvest delays. A lot of blueberry acres had much of their harvest pushed into direct competition with an especially large Georgia crop. Pricing before Easter is good. Pricing after Easter is not so good. 

Fortunately some farms with early evergreen production, who also dodged Ian, took advantage of strong early pricing and had a nice year. They, along with most farms, benefitted from a benign dry weather pattern that made for very good picks and the great fruit Florida is known for. If you watered diligently, you had the fruit grocers and consumers were looking for.  

Against this challenging background of smaller crops and lower prices, blueberry growers dealt with the prior 12 months of inflated crop input costs. General labor up, H2A labor way up, fertilizer way up, ag chemicals up, packing and transportation up, fuel and equipment costs up, insurance up, regulations up, and on and on up. 

Some farms, like our Frogmore, missed Ian entirely and were able to offset the post Easter pricing with machine harvesting. We also benefited from recent upgrades to some of our older varieties, which helped our overall volume hold up. I know of a number of farms in the revitalization process that are increasing acreage of varieties that produce more pounds per acre earlier during the favorable pricing window. I can definitely see this trend continuing, especially if UF breeds the Holy Grail of blueberry varieties: one that’s tasty, early, high-producing, pest-resistant and machineable.

So what do we do now as we look to next year and beyond?

After harvest is a time when growers see where they stand and make decisions about the future of their business. Do I stand pat? Do I upgrade my operation? Do I expand?  Or do I fold my cards? None of these are easy decisions, yet they are the most important of business decisions. As such, they require careful and purposeful reflection that results in a plan on paper.

There are indeed some threats we will have to deal with: escalating adverse effect wage rate, E-Verify, foreign competition, inflation of labor and growing inputs, environmental pressures on water and ag chemical use, ramping safety regulations, chilli thrips, more new pests and diseases, more storms, more freezes…


Fortunately, there are many more solutions than threats. Hope for the future is absolutely the right mindset. Look at this small sampling of developments that will overwhelm all these threats: better varieties, better and more efficient equipment, better growing methods from university research and grower creativity, better tools from chemical innovations, better information technology for better decisions, and — best of all — a rapidly growing global demand for blueberries enhanced by the expanding consumer movement to buy “grown fresh and local.”  

Yes, it was a challenging year for growers, but challenges have always been a part of farming. Florida growers know that all too well. The good news is that farmers are a resilient group with a special affection for what they do. Frankly, if this was not so, there would be no farmers, no farms, and no food.  

So yes, hope does spring eternal in the land of Florida blueberry growers. There will be a thriving blueberry industry in Florida for years to come because this is what growers want to do. And growers have the desire and perseverance to bend into the hard work it takes to grow a crop families can delight in and Florida growers can be proud of.

Leonard Park

President, FBGA

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