The production value of Oregon blueberries in 2007 reached nearly $65 million. Last year, with flat prices, that value was down to $37 million, making it the state’s 19th ranked agricultural commodity. This year, it should bounce back up. With strong local, domestic, and export markets available- and perhaps some new international customers on the way- blueberries should continue to be one of Oregon ag’s better stories.
Blueberries remain the popular superfood in Asia and have been the export mainstays for Oregon agriculture in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.The health benefits are notorious and the flavor profile fits the Asian palate well.
On the horizon are India and South Korea. Says Amanda Welker, interntional trade manager with the ODA, “If that market would open along with a free trade agreement, it would be a huge boon for Oregon’s blueberry industry.”
India and its enormous population remains intriguing for blueberry growers as well as many other agricultural producers.Indian consumers are just learning about the fruit and its health benefits. This is a very small niche market right now, but has room for exponential growth as the Indian market matures. The benefit for Oregon is the timing of our season. We can offer a fresh fruit in the middle of India’s hot and muggy summers when there is a lack of local fresh fruits in the market place.
The other Asian market that could greatly boost the fortunes of Oregon blueberry growers is South Korea. Both Korea and mainland China restrict imports of fresh blueberries, although processed berries are allowed. Korea is on the verge of opening its doors to fresh berries.
For the U.S., total fresh cultivated blueberry exports in 2009 reached 14,391 metric tons with a value of $64 million. Per capita consumption has increased in recent years not only in North America, but in Europe and Asia largely because of the blueberry health message- especially helpful in dealing with such issues as child obesity and the baby boom generation rapidly moving into retirement years. In the 1990s, a Tufts University study showed blueberries to have higher antioxidant activity than all other fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants neutralize the effects of free radicals- those unstable compound molecules that can attack human cells and damage DNA. Additional studies and reports in the last decade continue to reinforce the berry’s health value.
Prices have strengthened this year compared to 2009. The demand is high, but so should the supply. The transition to warmer weather is heating up the harvest of what could be a record setting crop of blueberries, allowing the industry to keep up with growing demand.
“Barring unforeseen circumstances, we should easily break the 50 million pound mark for production, which would be a new record for Oregon blueberries,” says Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Blueberry Commission. “Fortunately, I think we have the markets to support that production.”
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