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Blueberry Harvesting for Fresh Market versus Processing Market

Highbush blueberries generally come into production the third year after planting. Yields of 800 to 1,000 lbs per acre can be expected for the first harvest. With good cultural care, yield generally increases in a linear fashion as the plants mature. A mature planting (8 or more years old) should yield 7 tons or more per acre. Some fields have produced over 20 tons per acre. With these relatively high yields, harvesting considerations become a major factor in any successful Pacific Northwest blueberry enterprise.

The intended market for the fruit will play a key role in how it is harvested. Fresh market fruit has traditionally been hand picked. Careful hand pickers generally cause the least damage to the bushes and the fruit. Hand picking, followed by careful sorting and packaging, does not remove the white “bloom” or surface wax that consumers have come to expect on fresh blueberries. Hand picked fruit also is generally not bruised, thus helping to reduce postharvest decay incidence.

Recent improvements in mechanical harvesters have made it possible, however, to consider their use in partially meeting the needs of the fresh market producer. Further discussion of this practice is described in the Mechanical Harvesting section.

Fruit destined for processing (preserves, bulk frozen, individual quick frozen) is either hand harvested if the field is small or inaccessible to machinery, or mechanically harvested by over-the-row harvesters which shake the fruit off the bushes.

In the Northwest, blueberry growers can generally send fruit to processors that handle other small fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Growers are advised to contact processors well before harvest in order to arrange to have their fruit accepted. Processing companies generally employ field staff who work one-on-one with growers. Processors will provide growers with molded plastic picking flats that hold 12 14 lbs. of fruit. Field staff assist the grower during harvest by making the arrangements necessary to bring fruit to the plant and ensuring that the grower is paid. In addition, field staff often provide insect scouting services for the grower, and can assist in collecting leaves for plant analysis during late July to mid-August.

This fact sheet is adapted from Oregon State University Extension Publication PNW215, Highbush Blueberry Production. The authors of Highbush Blueberry Production are – Oregon State University: Bernadine Strik, Glenn Fisher, John Hart, Russ Ingham, Diane Kaufman, Ross Penhallegon, Jay Pscheidt and Ray William; Washington State University: Charles Brun, M. Ahmedullah, Art Antonelli, Leonard Askham, Peter Bristow, Dyvon Havens, Bill Scheer, and Carl Shanks; University of Idaho: Dan Barney. PNW215, Highbush Blueberry Production can be purchased from the Department of Extension & Experiment Station Communications, Oregon State University. How to Order