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Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

Blueberries Profile

By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, Ag Marketing Resource Center, Iowa State University.

Updated March 2013 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.

Updated January 2012 by Kimberly L. Morgan, Assistant Professor, Mississippi State University, morgan@agecon.msstate.edu

 
Overview
The United States is the world’s largest producer of blueberries, harvesting a total of 564.4 million pounds of cultivated and wild blueberries in 2012. Nearly 84 percent of the harvest consisted of cultivated blueberries.  (NASS 2013)

Michigan was the nation's leading producer of cultivated blueberries; the state harvested 87 million pounds in 2012. Other top producers included Georgia, Oregon, Washington and New Jersey.  (NASS 2013)

Maine was the leading producer of lowbush, or "wild," blueberries, harvesting 91.1 million pounds of wild blueberries in 2012.  (NASS 2013)

Blueberries rank as the second most important commercial berry crop in the United States, with a total crop value of nearly $850.9 million in 2012.

Production
More than 473.3 million pounds of cultivated blueberries, which included highbush and rabbiteye varieties, were harvested in 2012. Of that amount, 280.8 million pounds, or around 60 percent, were sold as fresh blueberries. In total, fresh and processed cultivated blueberries were valued at $781.8 million.  (NASS 2013)

The state of Michigan is the nation’s leading producer of cultivated blueberries. In 2012, the state harvested 87 million pounds, valued at $122.7 million (NASS 2013). Other top producers included Georgia, Oregon, Washington and New Jersey. Cultivated blueberries are also grown in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, New York and North Carolina.

Cultivated varieties are established using two or three-year-old bare root or container-grown plants. Highbush (Northern and Southern) and rabbiteye cultivars require milder growing conditions compared to lowbush plants, with both types thriving in well-drained, acidic soils and benefiting from irrigation and pruning. Highbush plants bloom later and produce a larger, juicier fruit with a thinner skin that ripens in early summer. Rabbiteye varieties are native to the southeastern U.S. and are the largest of the native blueberry plants, producing a slightly sweeter fruit with a tougher skin that is tolerant of machine harvesting.

Maine is the leading producer of lowbush blueberries. In 2012, a total of 91.1 million pounds of wild blueberries were harvested, up 14 percent from last year, and nearly all were sold for use in the processed market. The 2012 value of fresh and processed wild Maine lowbush blueberries was nearly $69.1 million.  (NASS 2013)

The lowbush species of blueberry is commonly referred to as a wild blueberry plant. It is one of four fruit crops that are native to North America. The lowbush is a wild crop, which means it is not cultivated or selected, although the plants are managed intensively.

According to the 2008 Organic Production Survey (USDA 2010), the United States had 526 certified organic farms growing cultivated (tame) blueberries. Total production was 5.9 million pounds, with 516 farms representing total sales of $16.4 million. Washington produced more than half (55%) of the U.S. organic cultivated blueberries harvested from certified organic farms, with 2008 sales valued at $8.7 million.

Exports/Imports
In 2012, the United States exported fresh blueberries valued at $145.7 million, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. Canada was the number one buyer, by far, followed by Japan. Exports of U.S. frozen blueberries were valued at nearly $69.2 million that year, jumping 39 percent from 2011. Canada and Japan were also the leading buyer of frozen blueberries. Exports of both dried blueberrries and canned blueberries dropped by double digits in 2012. Dried blueberry exports were valued at nearly $18.7 million and canned blueberry exports at $2.8 million.  (FAS 2012)

The United States is a net importer of fresh blueberries. In 2012, the nation imported fresh blueberries valued at nearly $419.8 million, a 12 percent increase from the previous year. Just over 50 percent of the fresh blueberries originated from Chile, which provides fresh blueberries to U.S. markets during the winter months of mid-November through January. Canada provided more than 25 percent of the fresh blueberries coming into the country. Canada also provided over half of the frozen blueberries imported into the United States in 2012. Imports of both canned and dried blueberries fell by double digits.  (FAS 2012)

Demand
In 2000, the North American Blueberry Council (NABC) voted to establish a Blueberry Order, a federally mandated marketing and promotion order. The program established a grower assessment program that is administered by the U.S. Highbush Council (USHBC). Resulting funds were invested in medical research trials, which have documented the health benefits associated with blueberry consumption, specifically the antioxidant properties of the “Little Blue Dynamos.” Combined with consumer marketing expenditures, the USHBC efforts appear successful, as USDA-ERS calculations revealed an impressive increase in national per capita consumption of blueberries, rising from 0.26 pounds in 2000 to nearly 1.3 pounds per person in 2011. In a trend initially observed in the early 2000s, average per capita availability of fresh blueberries surpassed frozen annual per capita availability, reaching 0.96 pounds versus 0.54 pounds frozen in 2009.

2012 Outlook
Rising consumption of blueberries prompted a flurry of new plantings. The majority of new plantings occurred in Washington, Oregon and California. As a result of continued labor supply limitations and conflicting regulations, the blueberry industry faces added pressure to move toward mechanized harvesting, a practice previously limited to the harvest of blueberries destined for the processing markets. Food safety and traceability issues associated with fresh fruit consumption will continue to be a priority area of concern for the industry. Investment in early and late varietal plantings and high tunnel production technologies offer growers the opportunity to improve overall profitability by targeting the lucrative fresh market windows of November through March.

 

Sources
Fruits and Tree Nuts, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.

Global Agricultural Trade Statistics, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA.

Maine Wild Blueberries, New England Agricultural Statistics (Field office of NASS), USDA.

Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.

2008 Organic Production Survey, NASS, The Census of Agriculture, USDA, 2010.

U.S. per capita food availability, ERS, USDA, 2009.

 

 

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