Whether cultivated, wild, fresh or frozen, blueberries are full of essential nutrients and fiber, and are high in antioxidants (ARS, 2014). One way to add value to either fresh or processed blueberry products is to state these health benefits on the packaging (as long as the statements are scientifically based and align with regulatory guidelines) (University of Kentucky – Extension, 2011).
In 2014, average market prices for cultivated fresh blueberries were $1.93 per pound and processed blueberry prices were $0.78 per pound. The average market price for fresh and processed wild blueberries was $0.60 per pound (NASS, 2015).
Prices received for fresh berries are often higher, but they are quick to perish, and therefore must be handled gently and sold quickly. Whether selling them wholesale or at a farm stand, one way to add value to fresh blueberries is proper postharvest handling techniques. The berries must be cooled directly after harvest. This lowers the field heat from the berry, lengthening the shelf life (Pennsylvania State University – Extension, 2014).
Processed blueberries don’t usually fetch the higher prices of their fresh counterparts, but they do play a role in blueberry demand. To add value, blueberries have been processed in almost every way imaginable (frozen, dried, syrups and purees, yogurt, juices, dietary supplements, etc.). Another way to add value to processed blueberries could be selling them directly to local restaurants. A 2013 survey funded by the USHBC and conducted by Hebert Research Inc. found that consumers perceive dishes with blueberries (fresh or processed) healthier than others, and also find them more appealing (The Packer, 2014).
At least 14 states produce blueberries. In 2014, the United States produced and utilized 563.2 million pounds of cultivated blueberries (highbush and rabbiteye varieties). Of that amount, 333.8 million pounds were sold as fresh blueberries, and 229.4 million pounds were processed. In total, fresh and processed cultivated blueberries were valued at $824.9 million.
Michigan was the nation's leading producer of cultivated blueberries; the state produced and utilized 99 million pounds, with a value of $123.8 million. The three following top producers were Washington, Georgia, and Oregon.
Maine was the leading producer of lowbush, or "wild" blueberries, producing and utilizing 104.4 million pounds. Fresh blueberries accounted for 600,000 pounds, and 103.8 million pounds were processed. In total, fresh and processed wild blueberries were valued at $63.5 million (NASS, 2015).
In 2014, the United States exported 79 million pounds of fresh blueberries (cultivated and wild) valued at $138 million. Canada was the number one buyer, by far, followed by Japan. Exports of U.S. frozen blueberries were almost 56 million pounds, valued at $72 million (ERS, 2015).
The United States is a net importer of fresh and frozen blueberries. In 2014, the nation imported 234.7 million pounds of fresh blueberries valued at nearly $530.5 million. Over 60 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 almost 20 percent of the fresh blueberries coming into the country (ERS, 2015).
Highbush (Northern and Southern) and rabbiteye cultivars thrive in well-drained acidic soils (4.5 to 5.0) with high organic content. Trickle irrigation is preferred for blueberries; however, overhead watering capabilities for frost protection are needed for areas susceptible to frost. Blueberries require annual pruning to regulate crop load and to promote new cane growth, this increases fruit quality and quantity. Pests are another important aspect to consider with blueberry production. Birds are one of the major pests on a blueberry farm, thus appropriate netting is needed to secure your crop (Pennsylvania State University – Extension, 2014).
The lowbush species of blueberry is a wild crop, which means it is not cultivated or selected, although the plants are managed just as intensively as cultivated varieties (University of Maine - Cooperative Extension, 2015).