Ken Patterson (Photo courtesy of Island Grove Ag Products)
believes the Florida blueberry business is about to undergo a dramatic change.
track record, he
is probably right.
Mr. Patterson, owner of Island Grove Ag Products in Hawthorne, FL, is one of the fathers of Florida's blueberry industry.
and pioneer Alto Straughn have been the most significant players in the industry's rise from non-existence 20 years ago to last year's record 22 million-pound crop.
A Feb. 12 freeze and other issues will likely create a drop in this year's total to between 16 million pounds and 17 million pounds, but Mr. Patterson
believes that is a temporary dip and that in a year or two Florida will be shipping as much as 28 million pounds of blueberries in an ever-growing industry.
That industry will likely become even more mechanized as new cultivars from the University of Florida
prove better-suited to machine harvesting.
has played a large role in helping develop the new varieties, field-testing plants for the University of Florida
and experimenting with the best methods for increasing viability and yields via its nursery operation, which grows 2.5 million blueberries plants each year in addition to millions of other fruit and ornamental plant products.
has watched over the last couple of years as prices for Florida blues - the first fresh domestic berries of the season - have dropped from all-time highs.
The last two seasons have fetched "really good prices, but not as good as everybody's used to," Mr. Patterson
This season, due to the supply crimp and other factors, Mr. Patterson
expects at least one more premium market before additional blueberry acreage already planted in Florida begins to bear fruit.
When that happens, competition for early market dollars will become more fierce and the market will likely not hit the highs it previously established.
"With Chile out of the deal early, some crop damage in south Florida, freeze damage in north Florida, Georgia out of the picture - they took a 50 percent hit from the freeze and won't be picking much of anything until mid-May - Florida's kind of got this thing to ourselves this year," Mr. Patterson