HAMMONTON -- Blueberry farmers here and throughout New Jersey say good weather helped yield their highest-ever crop in 2007.
The U.S. Agriculture Department reports Garden State farmers produced 54 million pounds of blueberries at a value of $90.2 million. In 2006, the blueberry crop set a previous record of $83 million.
Paul Macrie of Macrie Brothers Blueberry Farm on Weymouth Road here said in addition to the good weather, other factors figured into the record year. "The labor was plentiful. There was also plenty of demand for the supply of the blueberries," Macrie said Tuesday. "There was interest in juice products, as well as the fresh berries on the shelves."
The Duke variety of blueberry, which is one of three varieties grown on the 600 acres of farmland dedicated to the tiny berry at Macrie's, also is a high yield berry which reaches its peak in early July, right at the prime time for blueberries.
Known as "The Blueberry Capital of the World," Hammonton has dozens of farms, which grow the berry in the sandy soil of the Pinelands region. A summertime festival dedicated to the blueberry attracts thousands here each year.
State Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus says the public is responding to good taste and the fruit's reported health benefits.
"The demand for blueberries is increasing, not only for their good taste and versatility, but due to the reported health benefits of eating them," Kuperus said. "We expect a continued consumer interest in blueberries and for our blueberry farms to keep pace." Prices farmers received increased to $1.67 per pound, up from $1.61 in 2006, another record-high. It also was a large jump from the $1.23 per-pound average reached in 2005.
The Garden State ranks behind Michigan for blueberry production in the U.S. In 2007, Michigan farmers produced 93 million pounds of blueberries, valued at $165 million.