Hurricane, Rising Costs Made for a Mediocre Harvest


Leonard Park is somewhat blunt in his assessment of the 2023 Florida blueberry harvest: “It wasn’t a fantastic year in Florida.”

Park, president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and general manager of the 150-acre Frogmore Fresh blueberry farm near Dade City, says there were cost increases for growers but not much in the way of price increases. 

“(The harvest season) might have been great in Peru or worldwide, but not here in Florida,” Park adds.

Although Park says the blueberry harvest wasn’t “fantastic,” it also wasn’t bad either. About 21 to 21.5 million pounds were harvested from the 2021 and 2022 seasons on Florida’s approximately 5,700 acres of blueberry farmland. But for the 2023 season, from the start of March through early May, it was somewhat dreary as only 15.66 million pounds of blueberries were harvested from Florida farms – down about 5.8 million pounds, according to the UF/IFAS.

It certainly wasn’t a doom-and-gloom harvest season, but for Florida blueberry growers such as Park and Kyle Straughn, with harvest numbers down, it certainly could’ve been better. 

Straughn, vice president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association who manages Straughn Farms in Waldo, says this year’s prices aren’t as high as they’ve been in recent seasons, but input costs are up 20 to 40 percent, particularly for petroleum and petroleum-based products. He says his farm has 100 acres of greenhouse petroleum-based plastic covering. 

“The price per pound continues to drop. It seems like prices for everything are up except blueberries, and we have no control over that,” he says. “Overall, things are just not available or much more expensive.”

Like other growers, Straughn is cautiously optimistic for the 2024 harvest but wary of the impact Florida’s new immigration legislation might have on labor next year. 

“I hope we have workers to pick our crops,” he says. 

Doug Phillips, UF/IFAS Blueberry Extension Coordinator, attributes the lower yields, particularly on southwestern and south-central farms, to Hurricane Ian that hit southwest Florida neighborhoods and farms in late September of last year. 

“That was probably, in my opinion, a large part in the reduction of total pounds harvested across the state,” he says. 

Phillips adds he wasn’t aware of any other major issues on farms statewide other than freezing temperatures in Central and North Florida around Christmas, which delayed fruit ripening in those areas. 

Brittany Lee, former executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, says the 2023 Florida blueberry season was down and pointed out inclement weather and hurricanes as the main reasons. 

Lee says she hopes favorable weather will help boost production for the 2024 blueberry season. In 2024, she says growers and association members will look at ways in which to modernize operations and work closely with IFAS’s blueberry breeding program to cultivate and release new blueberry varieties. 

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