For the first time in several years, Oregon reigns as the nation’s leading producer of blueberries, reclaiming a top spot the state lost to Washington several years back.

“I was surprised,” said Jeff Malensky, chair of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, regarding Oregon’s resurgence to the top spot. “Our belief was Oregon and Washington had similar seasons, and so with the previous year being what it was, where Washington was ahead of Oregon, 2018 numbers should have followed accordingly.”

According to recently released preliminary crop reports, Oregon production hit 131 million pounds in 2018, far and away a record yield for the state, whereas Washington’s production came in at 127 million pounds.

In 2017, Oregon produced 107 million pounds of blueberries, compared to Washington’s 116 million pounds, which topped the nation that year.

In 2016, Oregon produced 116 million pounds of blueberries, the previous record. That year, Washington came in at 120 million pounds.

More significant than who is on top in any one year, according to Malensky, is the sheer increase in volume produced by the Pacific Northwest and what that means to an industry trying to cope with unprecedented volumes.

In the Northwest alone, which includes British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, volume increased to 412 million pounds in 2018, up from 358 million in 2017, continuing what has been a steady increase in production for the past 20 years.

“It doesn’t matter if we are ahead of Washington by a couple of million pounds, or if they are ahead of us. Between us and British Columbia, we are what is going to drive the processed and the fresh industry, as well,” Malensky said. “And with that comes the responsibility of developing markets.

“We need to move that needle up. We need to continue accessing markets and looking for new ways to use blueberries, including frozen, fresh, dried and other applications,” Malensky said. “There is a lot of fruit out there, and it is only going to increase.”

On the plus side, Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, said that movement has been strong.

“The positive point about 2018 is that Oregon’s fresh sales stayed not just strong, but actually grew a bit,” Ostlund said. “It is not like we are producing all of this fruit and it is going right into the freezer. Fresh markets stayed strong. It is consumed, and it is off the market, and it didn’t overly burden the freezer component, which is awesome.”

About 45 percent of Oregon’s 2018 blueberry production, or 59.6 million pounds, went into the fresh market, with the remainder entering the processed market.

Other top producing states in 2018, according to preliminary numbers from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, include Michigan, which produced 66 million pounds of blueberries; California, which produced 58 million pounds; and Georgia, which produced 50 million.

Overall, U.S. blueberry production, counting highbush and lowbush varieties, which are produced primarily in Maine, came in at around 650 million pounds in 2018, up from 480 million in 2017.

Malensky said he expects volumes to increase in coming years, particularly given that several states had down years in 2018 due to weather.

“Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey all were down,” he said. “All of those areas could have done 10, 20, 30 percent more than what they did.”

Excessive heat last summer in Eastern Washington, where most of Washington’s blueberry production is concentrated, probably played a significant factor in Oregon’s resurgence to the top spot, said Doug Krahmer of Berries Northwest in St. Paul, Ore.

“We had some of those issues, but they had more up there,” Krahmer said. “Where the (Willamette) Valley was hot and dry, they were hotter and dry.”

Source: Capital Press