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Off-season blueberry production a new options on Coastal California family farms

The Issue

Small farms in California are often confronted with economic realities similar to those that plague larger farms. An over-supply of traditional fruit and vegetable crops and chronic low market prices affect many farms in the state. The development of promising new crops is one option that offers California small farmers real alternatives to enhance the diversity of crops they grow and improve small farm profitability.

What Has ANR Done?

An analysis of market prices and volume trends in the late 1990s led farm advisors Mark Gaskell and Ben Faber to conclude that low-chill, off-season fresh market blueberries offered a potentially profitable new crop for mild coastal California growing areas. Blueberries had not been grown previously in coastal California and their production had traditionally been limited to the eastern U.S. and Washington and Oregon. In 1997-98, Gaskell and Faber established trials on several small farms on the Central Coast with seed money from the UC Small Farm Program. These trials determined the crop could be grown under coastal California conditions and be harvested in early spring, when prices are highest.

In 2001, coastal blueberry field trials were extended to San Diego County with the participation of farm advisors Ramiro Lobo and Gary Bender. UC post-harvest specialist Beth Mitcham joined the research team to evaluate potential post harvest handling problems.

The Payoff

Coastal California small farms have a profitable new crop alternative

Trial blueberry plantings expanded up and down the coast of California from Santa Cruz to San Diego counties and new commercial plantings are continuing in 2009. Even though limitations on the availability of new plant stock due to patent restrictions have slowed establishment of new blueberry acreage in California, fresh market blueberries represent a promising new profitable alternative crop for small-scale coastal California farms.

In 2009, many coastal growers are harvesting conventional and organically grown blueberries with some production throughout the entire winter off-season. Coastal growers in 2009 are consistently marketing blueberries into a valuable market window in March, April and early May with good production when supplies are short during the traditional gap between Southern and Northern Hemisphere production.

There are now more than 4,000 acres planted to blueberries in California.

Clientele Testimonial

"Off-season fresh blueberries have been a great crop for me over the past few years and I can't imagine doing it without the assistance of UC farm advisors." - Sandra Neuman, Lompoc, CA (Santa Barbara Co.)


Supporting Unit:

UC Cooperative Extension, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and San Diego counties, UC Small Farm Program, UC Department of Plant Sciences, Davis.
Mark Gaskell, (805) 934-6240, mlgaskell@ucdavis.edu
Ben Faber, (805) 645-1462, bafaber@ucdavis.edu
Ramiro Lobo, (760) 752-4716, relobo@ucdavis.edu
Gary Bender, (760) 752-4711, gsbender@ucdavis.edu
Beth Mitcham, (530) 752-7512, ejmitcham@ucdavis.edu