Blueberries getting their slice of the ag pie
Stacey Sarty admits that when he planted 24 acres in blueberries– a first-time endeavor for the veteran farmer – he did it only because his wife asked him to.
“She’s very health conscious,” said Sarty, who farms 300 acres in Quincy.
But the blueberry plants, now four years old, are starting to grow on Sarty.
With six varieties growing on those 24 acres, Sarty expects to harvest a couple ton of blueberries per acre.
The patient Sarty is now optimistic the blueberries will be more than a way to make his wife happy. For the first time this year, Sarty is sending 40,000 pounds to an interested buyer in Oregon.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “This year is going to be the best year yet.”
Blueberry picking in Eastern Washington is well underway; growers started harvesting the popular berry about a month ago.
In Washington, there are about 13,000 acres planted in blueberries, said Alan Schreiber, director of the Washington Blueberry Commission. And those numbers are growing to reflect the growing popularity of the little berry, Schreiber said.
In 2006, the state was producing about 13 million pounds of blueberries a year. Today, those numbers are closer to 110 million, he said. The growth in 10 years is “remarkable,” said Schreiber.
Much of that growth is because of more health conscious consumers, he said. Several reports have documented the health benefits blueberries provide, from aiding in cognitive development and eyesight to just having a high nutritional value, Schreiber said.
The other reason for the growth is simple – people like blueberries, he added. Blueberries are easy to eat and don’t require much prep work, he said.
What’s more exciting than the growing demand from the public is that the growth in the number of acres planted in blueberries across Washington has kept up with that public demand, Schreiber said.
In Washington, about 90 percent of blueberries processed go to domestic markets; only about 10 percent head to Pacific Rim markets, he said.
“The year looks pretty good,” Schreiber said. “Right now we have some pretty good looking yields.”
Schreiber also predicts a bright future for Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia, which he expects to emerge as the leading region for blueberries in North America. He predicts the region will become known just as much for its blueberries as it is for apples, pears and hops. Blueberries will transition from a “backseat crop to a big industry,” Schreiber said.
“It’s going to be a West Coast crop,” he said.
Sarty’s fields at Road T and Road 8 Nothwest are open to u-pickers 7 a.m. to noon on Sundays.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, email@example.com