WHITE LAKE — Mother Nature and the area’s bees partnered up earlier this year and created the perfect storm to challenge Bladen County’s blueberry growth.
“Cool weather in March and early April created some challenges for the farmers in Bladen County,” said Bruce McLean, Bladen County Extension agent for agriculture. “This includes pollination issues.”
That reasoning resonated with others in the county, as well.
“When the bushes were in bloom,” elaborated Ralph Carter from Carter Farms, “it was too cool for the bees to work.”
During the beginning of the harvest (early May), there was heavy rainfall, which split the blueberries and made them unable to be packed and sold.
“There was too much water coming in at the roots, which caused a split in the berry,” explained Carter. “After all of the events, we think there is a 38-percent loss across state or more.”
According to Carter, 60 to 65 percent of the blueberry acreage in North Carolina is in Bladen County, with North Carolina being the sixth largest producer of blueberries in the country.
But Carter Farms has suffered about a 65-percent loss this season alone and counting. Other farms in Bladen County, including Barnes Blueberry Farm, have also suffered similar loss.
“This year we are thinking 30 to 35 million pounds will be produced in North Carolina, when it should have been roughly 50 to 60 million pounds,” said Carter. “This year has not been quite as bad as last year, when we suffered about an 80-percent loss and North Carolina only produced 25 million pounds across the state.”
The loss last year was caused by the “late freeze.” Temperatures last year dropped after blueberries were already in bloom. Typically, farmers try to protect the blooms from the frost of the freezing temperatures by running their irrigation and accumulating ice on the berries to act as insulation. This makes the temperature of the bloom stay 32 degrees in order for the bloom not to freeze. The lower the temperatures become, the more irrigation farmers must run to “thicken the coat” of ice on the bloom to keep it warm.
“Last year the temperatures dropped into the low teens,” explained Carter. “There is no amount of water, in the teens, that you could put on them to save them after a significant amount of time in this condition.”
Carter Farms does not have new plans that may help the loss next year, if the same type of weather conditions occur. But Barnes Blueberry Farm plans to order Koppert bumblebees, which will pollinate in 40-degree weather opposed to the honeybee that only pollinate in temperatures around 60 degrees.
Rachel Horrell can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.