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were 20% to 100% higher than for conventional blueberries, depending on supply and demand. (Krewer, 2001)

Highbush blueberries typically start producing in the third season, and yields increase annually for the next four years. At full capacity, blueberries yield about 3 tons per acre. As blueberries are expensive to establish and maintain, growers often do not realize a return on their capital investment until the seventh year. Well-maintained blueberry bushes remain productive for at least 15 to 20 years.

Blueberries ripen fairly predictably, according to the region in which they are grown. In heavy bearing years, market prices can drop dramatically, with early-bearing regions faring well and late-bearing regions doing poorly. Harvest patterns follow a sequence beginning with rabbiteyes from Georgia and Texas, followed by highbush berries from North Carolina and the Southern Interior Highlands (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri). These are followed by the Northern Interior Highlands, New Jersey, and so on. In years of overproduction, harvest prices do not even cover the cost of picking. Therefore, factors affecting local supply (such as late spring frost and the number of blueberry farms in your area) can play a major role in profitability.

Blueberries are a highly perishable crop, and efficient post-harvest handling is critical. Berry flats should be quickly refrigerated following harvest. For the commercial grower, a walk-in cooler is a must, as is a grading and packing shed. The Mississippi State University Extension Service publication Costs & Returns Associated with Producing Commercial Blueberries, available on-line at <http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/ p2159.html>, provides more detailed information on the economics of blueberry production, including costs for irrigation, fertilizer, yields based on plant age, labor requirements, field operation costs for establishment, and more. While cost and return estimates will vary by state, the publication can serve as a useful planning guide.

For a budget showing establishment and maintenance costs for blueberry production, see this highbush blueberry budget from Penn State: <http://agalternatives.aers.psu.edu/crops/ highbush_blueberry / highbush_blueberry .pdf >.

Below are two of their budgets for conventional highbush blueberries (Table 3 and 4).

Table 3. Per-acre Cost Estimates for Fresh-market Highbush Blueberries*

Costs

Land Preparation

Your Estimate

Planting year 0

Your Estimate

Mature year 4+

Your Estimate

Variable

Custom operations

74.60

34.80

6.00

Fertilizer

311.00

16.00

32.00

Weed control

0.00

129.64

212.10

Insect control

0.00

10.88

74.85

Disease control

0.00

0.00

103.24

Seed

48.00

60.00

0.00

Plants

0.00

2,001.00

0.00

Irrigation

0.00

620.00

120.00

Mulch

0.00

250.00

0.00

Bee rental

0.00

0.00

25.00

Labor

8.00

400.05

5,526.19

Fuel

0.00

4.23

7.32

Maintenance

0.00

3.12

8.07

Interest

22.62

188.13

16.87

Total Variable

464.23

3,717.84

6,131.63

Fixed

Equipment

0.00

6.22

14.71

Land

100.00

100.00

100.00

Total Fixed

100.00

106.22

114.71

Total Costs

564.23

3,824.06

6,246.35

*Demchak, K., J.K. Harper, and G.L. Greaser. 2001. Highbush Blueberry Production. Agricultural Alternatives. Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences.

Table 4. Returns above total costs for various prices and yields*

Price

Yield - pounds/acre

4000

6000

8000

10,000

Dollars/pound

$

$

$

$

0.75

-646

-446

-246

-46

1.00

354

1054

1754

2454

1.25

1354

2554

3754

4954

1.50

2354

4054

5754

7454

1.75

3354

5554

7754

9954

2.00

4354

7054

9754

12,454

2.25

5354

8554

11,754

14,954

*Demchak, K., J.K. Harper, and G.L. Greaser. 2001. Highbush Blueberry Production. Agricultural Alternatives. Pennsylvania State Univeristy College of Agricultural Sciences.

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