With the recent summertime heat and thunderstorms, farmers are hurrying to salvage the remainder of the blueberry harvest, as the picking season draws to a close.
Cropped Photo: WPBN/WTOM
"We're approaching the tail end of it,” says Neil Kelly, Regional Extension Agent. “There’s a few berries, but some of the berry size … is starting to get a little bit smaller."
All across the Southeast, prices for blueberries have been much higher this year.
"Blueberries have been affected all the way from Florida, Georgia, to Mississippi, and North Carolina because really no chill hours in the winter,” explained blueberry grower, Harold Raley.
Normally blueberries bloom from February into April.
But this year was different.
"We had a little bit of a late frost, so we didn't have quite the quantity of berries, but we have better quality berries this year,” says Katie Shadell, a recent high school graduate, who helps on her grandparents’ blueberry farm during the summer.
Even though the quality was good, a mild winter hurt Wiregrass blueberry farmers, who said for the first time ever, blueberry crops started blooming as early as December.
"It still made blueberries, but it's just been one of those weird years,” says Raley. “But it still hurt the crop."
And the Christmas floods certainly didn't help.
"A drier climate is kind of better because most if all of our blueberries are going to be irrigated,” says Kelly. “Of course with moisture and rain comes diseases and that kind of thing. So if we have kind of bright sunny days, mild temperatures, that's actually kind of the best for us."
So what are the ideal weather conditions for next year?
"A cold winter, first of all,” says Raley. “That's the number one thing we need. We didn't have the chill hours."
Though it was a somewhat average season, for what blueberries were picked, they will serve their purpose to beat the sizzling summer heat.
"Vanilla ice cream is the best with blueberry cobbler!” says Shadell.
Despite the warm winter, farmers expect to wrap up the blueberry harvest on schedule this month.