Popularity of Blueberries, Business Uncertainties Drive Shifts

Grower survey indicates Southeast fruit production shift and cites concern about losses due to spotted wing drosophila.

SAVANNAH, Ga., Feb. 18, 2016 – Managing risk through diversification and response to consumer demand appears to be a strategy embraced by southeastern U.S. fruit growers, according to a survey at the 2016 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference.

Nearly half of the respondents reported they would plant blueberries in 2016, compared to just 14 percent who currently grow the fruit. Another 7 percent said they are considering adding blueberries to their lineup. The survey was conducted by DuPont Crop Protection at the conference, held Jan. 7-9 in Savannah, Ga.

“We’re hearing from growers that they want to manage uncertainty by diversifying their offerings,” said Joe Mares, insect control portfolio manager, DuPont Crop Protection. “Growers are adding blueberries, peaches and other crops to their operations to balance concerns over volatile weather and losses due to pest pressure, while taking advantage of shifts in consumer demand.”

Blueberries have become increasingly popular with food processors and consumers. Touted for being rich in antioxidants and other health benefits, hundreds of new blueberry products have appeared on store shelves.

The latest available U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics shows U.S. blueberry production was 5.67 million pounds in 2014, an increase of 5 percent from 2013. While final figures haven’t been released for 2015 production, it’s clear that poor weather hurt crops in Georgia, Michigan and other key blueberry-producing states.

Spotted Wing Drosophila and Other Concerns

Growers are looking to manage crop quality and yield by controlling the spotted wing drosophila in blueberries and by managing resistant insects and controlling disease in other crops, the survey found.

More than one in three growers who will plant blueberries (35 percent) called spotted wing drosophila (SWD) their biggest concern for 2016, followed by managing disease pressure (22 percent).

Damage from larvae of spotted wing drosophila is emerging as a serious economic threat to berry and stone-fruit crops because the insect targets healthy fruit. Yield losses can run as high as 80 percent. Georgia growers report annual losses up to 20 percent due to the destructive insect.

Mares points to DuPont™ Exirel® insect control powered by Cyazypyr® as a tool to help blueberry growers battle SWD. “Rejection of produce can be costly. Exirel® reduces the potential for produce rejection by protecting fruit from SWD. Studies have shown that Exirel® applied at 13.5 ounces per acre with a nonionic adjuvant provided better fruit protection than industry standards.”

Growers who do not plan to grow blueberries in 2016 cited disease management (29 percent) and controlling resistant insects (26 percent) as their top concerns. Controlling thrips pressure (16 percent) and handling rising input costs (13 percent) were the next most troubling issues for fruit and vegetable growers who responded to the survey.

“With high-value crops and ongoing insect and disease pressures here in the Southeast, growers are continuing to identify and adapt new crop protection strategies for tree fruit, berry and vegetable crops,” Mares said. “Research sites and on-farm trials are pointing to the most successful options for long-term integrated pest management.”

Collaborating to Find New Solutions

Fruit and vegetable growers who completed the survey reported they plan to employ several methods to enhance crop quality and yield by minimizing losses from insects and disease.

Nearly 26 percent of growers will invest in new crop protection technologies and 25 percent will increase applications of their current crop protection programs. Almost 17 percent said they will grow new varieties and 12 percent will grow new crops. In addition, 9 percent said they will incorporate crop nutrition programs and 6 percent will decrease inputs. Respondents could choose two options to indicate their plans to address concerns for 2016.

“DuPont is constantly collaborating with growers and consultants to find the most effective use of crop protection technologies,” Mares said. “As a science-based company, we know we need to continue to develop new ways to protect the crops that will feed our growing world population.”

DuPont has been recognized with 20 Agrow Awards over the last eight years, including winning the Best R&D Pipeline award in 2013 and 2014.

The EPA registered label for Exirel® contains the statement, “This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are foraging in the treatment area.”

Always read and follow all label directions and precautions for use.

DuPont Exirel® insect control is not available in all states. See your local DuPont sales representative or retailer for details on availability.