PIKETON, Ohio -- With its wide variety of uses and its anti-cancer properties, the blueberry has been growing in popularity in Ohio, with production increasing 32 percent since 1997, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Growers interested in cashing in on this small fruit crop can learn what it takes to commercially produce and sell blueberries during the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association Congress.
Maurus Brown, an Ohio State University small fruit specialist with OSU South Centers at Piketon, will present a session on "Blueberry Production Pointers," on Jan. 12 from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. OPGMA Congress will take place Jan. 12-14 at the Nia Center at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio. For complete program information, log on to http://www.ohiofruit.org.
"If growers are going to get into selling blueberries commercially, they need to make sure they have a market to sell their product to. It used to be that the focus of crop production was learning how to grow the crops and then worry about selling them after harvest," said Brown. "But because small fruit crops are time consuming and high maintenance, we've changed the strategy to more of a marketing focus and learning about production practices along the way."
Brown will provide key techniques for establishing a commercial blueberry planting, including site selection, soil testing, pH adjustments, variety selection, pruning, direct marketing and sales to Ohio wineries.
"The biggest mistake growers make when it comes to blueberry production is not properly preparing the land. You need at least six months to a year to prepare the soil and make sure that pH is low enough to support acid-loving blueberries," said Brown.
Brown said that growers also must be mindful of such maintenance aspects as irrigation, fertilization and pruning, as any lapse in proper production can result in poor fruit set, quality and quantity. But once a blueberry plant is established, which can take three to four years, a plant can produce fruit for as long as 20 years.
"Blueberries are also popular with growers because they are more forgiving in terms of pest management than other small fruits because they are not plagued as much by insects and diseases," said Brown. "So that really opens the doors for growing blueberries organically and targeting the fruit to more markets."
Small fruit production in Ohio is popular with many farmers as an additional source of income and as an outlet for managing small acres of land.
OPGMA Congress is an annual event that offers a plethora of topics on fruit and vegetable production from university specialists and industry professionals. OPGMA is an organization of produce growers and marketers whose goal is to produce exceptional quality crops, for consumers and processors, utilizing environmentally friendly practices. OPGMA was formed in January 2007 with the merger of the Ohio Vegetable and Potato Growers Association, the Ohio Fruit Growers Society, and the Direct Agricultural Marketers Association of Ohio.