FIELD TO PANCAKES: PART 3 — Blueberries On The Rise


Editor’s note: This is part three of a three-part series exploring Georgia’s blueberry boom. From bringing more than 50 varieties to market and ensuring plants will endure a changing climate to monitoring the growing economic impact of the blueberry, this series dives into the multidisciplinary research behind the top 10 Georgia commodity. 

Blueberries comprise a hefty serving of Georgia’s fruit industry, as increased production and demand stack up profits in the Peach State.

While peach production in Georgia peaked in 1928 at nearly 8 million bushels, production has slowly dwindled ever since, and the blueberry industry, which started taking root in the state in the 1960s, has captured the top spot among the Peach State’s fruit crops.

Georgia ranks third nationally for both blueberry and peach production however the blueberry far outstrips its fuzzy cousin, with the blueberry industry contributing $348.7 million to Georgia’s economy in 2021 compared to $84.8 million from the peach industry, according to the CAES Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development in the 2023 Ag Snapshots.

Pounds of peaches vs pounds of blueberries graph.
“Consumer demand plays a role in production and marketing decisions,” said Ben Campbell, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “For instance, from 2011 to 2021 there has been a 97% increase in per capita consumption of blueberries (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture).”

While berry consumption has grown, Campbell added that it has most likely been at the expense of other Georgia commodities. As blueberry demand has increased, he said, peach demand is down 47%.

Headshot of Ben Campbell, Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Georgia

Ben Campbell, Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Georgia

Headshot of Greg Fonsah, Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Georgia

Greg Fonsah, Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Georgia

“The demand for blueberries has always been higher than the supply,” said Greg Fonsah, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. “The excess demand was instrumental in the rapid expansion and productivity of the blueberry industry. This positive consumer demand trend has consistently increased despite multifaceted structural, institutional, policy, weather and natural disaster problems plaguing the industry.”

Per capita consumption has been increasing steadily, Fonsah added, jumping from 1.58 pounds  in 2015 to 1.71 pounds in 2016.

“It is worth mentioning that due to consumer demand for blueberries and the increase in production in Georgia and the United States in general, the supply is not enough to meet domestic demand,” Fonsah said. “Barely 50 million pounds of blueberries penetrated the U.S. market from foreign countries in 2005, compared to 400 million pounds in 2018.”

In addition to the increased demand for blueberries, researchers are monitoring consumer preferences on a broader scale.

“Berries as a category have seen tremendous growth over the last decade, but it has not just been for blueberries,” Campbell said. “Raspberries have experienced a 192% increase in consumption. So, on the consumer side, economists are watching consumer preferences as they change over time and gravitate to new products or varieties.”

Tracking The Success Of A Top 10 Georgia Commodity

AI image of blueberry field generated by Adobe Firefly

AI image of blueberry field generated by Adobe Firefly

This demand — and the increased importance of the blueberry industry to Georgia’s economy — means CAES agricultural economists follow the complete value and supply chain of the blueberry industry. Researchers are tackling farm management, production and yield, harvesting, packaging, price trends, consumption, import and export trends, and policies that specifically impact the Georgia blueberry industry and the Georgia fruit and vegetable industries at large, according to Fonsah.

“For instance, over two decades ago, there were four kinds of agricultural practices adopted for blueberries in the state of Georgia — rabbiteye, southern highbush, high density and organic blueberry production systems, respectively,” Fonsah said. “Presently, the high-density production system is no longer popular, while machine harvesting is increasing due to the problems caused by labor shortage.”

Seasonality and the impact of trade are drivers of current research, according to Campbell.

“We’re looking at seasonality — competition from other states such as Florida and North Carolina and how Georgia product fits within marketing windows,” Campbell said. “We also focus on the impact of trade; much like seasonality, when does product from other countries hit the market and cause Georgia prices to decrease.”

Farm gate value graph of blueberries in Georgia, from 2011-2021

Farm gate value graph of blueberries in Georgia, from 2011-2021

Other factors include watching profitability — even though prices have increased, the price is most likely not keeping up with input cost increases experienced during the last few years, he added.

Still, data shows a 14% increase in the farm gate value for blueberries from 2011 to 2021. Adjusting for inflation, the increasingly popular berry rose from $306 million to $348 million in value. In the same period, total blueberry acreage increased by 11% from roughly 21,300 acres in 2011 to almost 25,000 acres in 2021, according to Campbell.

“All acreage is not the same, however; fresh highbush has increased by 83% in the last decade while rabbiteye has decreased by 22%,” Campbell said. “Prices, on the other hand, have increased by 4% and 5% for fresh highbush and rabbiteye, respectively, so most of the increased farm gate value is coming from increases in volume, not a price increase.”

Even so, Fonsah said fresh blueberry prices have been one of the drivers of the increase in production.

“In the past two decades — and although fluctuating — the national annual average blueberry prices have increased from $1.29 per pound in 2000 to $2.04 per pound in 2020,” Fonsah said. “Due to better fruit quality and overall cosmetic appearance, Georgia-grown blueberries sometimes receive better prices per pound than the national average.”

To learn more about UGA blueberry research, resources and news, visit the UGA Extension blueberry page.

Stack of pancakes flipping in a pan with blueberries around.