Fans of what the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council calls “Little Blue Dynamos” are enjoying sweeter local berries this season thanks to current weather conditions, farmers say.
The extra high temperatures have concentrated the sugars in the berries, making them “real sweet,” said Cliff Muller, who raises 2 acres of about 1,300 blueberry trees at his organic U-pick Berry Sweet Orchards LLC in Ethel.
But those same hot, dry conditions mean growers have to irrigate heavily to keep the blueberries from drying like raisins on the bush.
Despite the drought, blueberry farmers say they will have a plentiful supply for their U-pick and farmers market customers until about mid-July.
“The berries are holding out,” Muller said. “We’ve had to resort to a lot of irrigation this year which I’ve never done before. But, we’ve been pumping like 150,000 gallons of water out of my pond and flood irrigating the blueberries. ... I lost a few of my early berries just because I wasn’t prepared for doing all of this irrigation.
“But my later berries are looking really good at this point, but we could use some rain,” Muller said. “There is nothing like rain. We could pump all day long, but it’s not like rain.”
Paul Davidson III, of EquiTerra Farm east of Clinton, echoed Muller.
“Irrigation keeps young plants alive, but with rainwater they really jump. There’s something in rain,” Davidson said.
His older trees - he planted some 30 years ago - tolerate the drought better because they have deep roots, Davidson said.
“They had to fend for themselves” before he got an irrigation system, he said.
Davidson, who grows 1,200 plants to organic standards on 2? acres, expects to have blueberries until late July.
Eric Morrow, of Morrow Farm in Ponchatoula, also is having to water his 6,000 trees more than usual, and has altered picking times to avoid the heat of midday.
“If you have irrigation, you’re OK,” he said. “But, if you didn’t irrigate, you’d be really hurting. Your berries would be small and dried up.”
Morrow began picking blueberries April 25 and said he should have berries until mid-July.
While Davidson and Morrow sell their tasty, little berries at the Red Stick Farmers Market, Muller strictly operates a U-pick farm. He asked that customers call (225) 683-8584 before coming out because with his having to irrigate in the afternoons, “you can’t go by my regular-scheduled hours this season.”
Berry Sweet Orchards, which is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, will close after July 2. However, Muller’s wife, Susan, said, “If we start getting some rain, the season could possibly extend for a couple of more weeks.”
Davidson offers U-pick only on Saturdays and Sundays at his farm at 12798 Muse Lane, Clinton. Call (225) 683-8406 for more information. He also suggested checking “pick-your-own” websites to locate other area blueberry picking farms.
As consumers learn more about the versatile, flavorful berries’ health benefits, demand keeps growing - and “so does the need for more people to grow them,” the LSU AgCenter says.
To promote both production and blueberries’ nutritional value, the LSU AgCenter with a $518,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative has developed a new website about blueberries. It says the site is part of eXtension.org, a national website that features educational information posted by land-grant universities. For information, go to http://www.extension.org/blueberries.