Birds are a common pest of blueberries. Their impact varies, depending on location and bird density. Oregon reported up to 60% crop loss from birds.(Main et al., circa 2000) In a Florida study (Main et al., circa 2000), blueberries protected with bird netting yielded the same as those unprotected. Various methods of control have been tried—including "scare-eye" balloons, Mylar reflective tape, and sonic devices—with varying levels of success. The problem with most repellents or scare tactics is that birds become habituated to the stimulus, rendering it ineffective after a short time. Sometimes, growers overcome this problem by changing the stimulus frequently — e.g., switching from balloons to Mylar tape, or moving the balloons from one site to another. Properly applied bird netting has provided consistent and predictable control, but it is expensive to purchase and set up. At the time of this writing (2004), the cost for %-inch bird netting 14 feet wide by 100 feet long is $85 plus shipping; 14 feet by 200 feet is $175, plus shipping; while a 5000 foot roll of 14-foot wide netting runs $1800 plus shipping. For a Web site that sells bird netting, see <www.bird-away. com/>.
An Illinois study (Anon., 1991) found that the yield increase on net-protected blueberries paid 80% of the costs of installation at a problem site. As growers report a 10-year life expectancy for netting, the investment proved profitable by the second year.
Rodents, primarily voles, can be a problem in blueberries, because they inhabit mulches and feed on roots and bark. Several other soil dwellers such as moles and shrews may also be present. Shrews are carnivores that feed on grubs and worms; however, their tunneling can harm the plants. Rodent problems are largely confined to plantings that are mulched and those with permanently sodded middles. Clean cultivation provides little shelter and disturbs burrows, but it also creates an erosion hazard. Organic alternatives include trapping, encouraging predators (e.g., setting out perches to attract hawks, and owl boxes for barn owls), frequent mowing of sodded middles, and managing fencerows and adjacent areas to discourage migrants.(Hauschild, 1995)
For details on options for rodent control, please refer to ATTRA's Overview of Organic Fruit Production. This publication also discusses management of bird problems. Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also have information on rodent and bird control.
There are a number of marketing options for organic blueberries. Fresh blueberries can be marketed directly through roadside stands, U-Pick operations, on-farm sales, and farmers' markets. There are also well-established wholesale markets for both fresh and frozen blueberries.
While highbush blueberries are grown for both fresh fruit and processing markets, "nearly half of the cultivated blueberries grown are sold as fresh blueberries," according to the North American Blueberry Council.(Anon, no date) Since returns to the grower usually are higher for fresh berries, most organic growers choose that option.
As local retail markets become saturated, many growers will also sell their berries wholesale through growers' cooperatives. This is a common option for organic growers, especially where organic collectives have helped to identify premium markets. Some value-added processing options include frozen berries, jams, and juice.
A breakthrough in value-added marketing came in the late 1990s, when scientific research indicated special health benefits associated with blueberry consumption.(Staff, 2000; Anon, 1999; Lazarus and Schmitz, 2000) More farmers are now looking at marketing blueberries as a healthy "functional" food that contains flavonoids, vitamin C, anthocyanins, and phenolic acids.(Medders, 2001) Among the selling points are that blueberries are a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, that the tannins in blueberries can help prevent urinary tract infections, and that % cup of blueberries contains only 40 calories.(Anon., 2002)
For more information about marketing options, see the ATTRA publications Direct Marketing, Farmers' Markets, and Adding Value to Farm Products: An Overview. On-farm, value-added blueberry products usually require setting up a rural enterprise besides farming, and may entail considerable additional planning, management, and start-up expense. Co-packers are an alternative to doing your own processing.
Blueberries are a popular "U-Pick" crop. When acreage exceeds the capacity of U-Pick customers, whether 5 or 15 acres, hired labor becomes necessary. One rule of thumb suggests that 10 to 15 pickers per acre are required during the height of the harvest season.
For a good article on marketing blueberries from a New Jersey blueberry farm, see <www. newfarm.org/features/0803/NJ%20blue/index. shtml>.
For more information, see Blueberry Marketing Options, from the Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network, available on-line at <http:// berrygrape.orst.edu/fruitgrowing/berrycrops/ blueberry/mopt.htm>.
Additionally, the Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA) Web site, <www. wildblueberries.com>, promotes marketing and is an excellent source of information on production practices.
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