Grand Rapids, Mich., small fruit regional report – September 4, 2013

After a complicated small fruit crop production season, raspberry harvest still has a long way to go, but blueberry harvest is getting close to an end.

The 2013 berry season is entering its final phase for the main berry crops in west Michigan. Blueberries are still harvested, but the bulk of the harvest is almost done in southwest Michigan with some fields planted with the varieties Elliott and Aurora still in the final harvest phase. However, blueberry fields north of Allegan County will require two to three more weeks to complete the harvest. As of Sept. 4, 2013 the Elliott and Aurora varieties are hand-harvested for fresh pack and some Jersey fields are machine-harvested for processing.

The present berry season has been very complex from the stand point of pest control and market conditions. On one hand, the presence of spotted wing Drosophila (SWD) in both blueberries and raspberries increased the pest control expenses. In some cases, the cost of controlling SWD added another $100 to the pest control budget. In the case of blueberries, recovering those expenses will be difficult given the current market conditions.

Blueberry prices for the most part of the season have remained low, causing some economic losses to most growers that expected a better return than in previous years. Currently, a bright spot are the U-pick operations. Small growers that sell most of their berries as U-pick are having good success in marketing their berries, which in most cases were sold for more than $1.50 per pound. Although they had to invest in SWD control at the same rate as traditional commercial growers, their returns will pay for their investment.

As of Sept. 4, packers and shippers receiving blueberries from local growers are trying to maintain a balance between quality and insect parts in blueberries harvested for processing. So far, the industry is realizing that maintaining a 100 percent SWD control is desirable, but difficult to achieve. Therefore in the future some sort of threshold or tolerance for the presence of SWD larvae in processing berries might be needed. Otherwise, some growers, principally limited-resources small producers, may go out of business, giving the impossibility of presenting blueberry loads 100 percent free of SWD larvae.

Regarding raspberries, currently harvest has continued with problems similar to blueberries. The cost of controlling SWD is increasing and growers are running out of options for pest control given the length of the harvest period. So far, harvest of fall raspberries and blackberries may continue until the first week of October. This will require maintaining a strict pest control program and integrated pest management scouting to provide customers with SWD-free berries. In addition to the presence of SWD, there are reports of fruit rots, mainly Botrytis “gray mold,” that are affecting the fruit quality and yield.

For fruit rot control options in raspberries, we recommend growers consult the Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E-154 or call your local MSU Extension office for technical assistance.

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