From Farm to You
From a picker's bucket, fruit is transferred in crates to the packing shed. Here, quality assurance programs are adopted to ensure the quality and freshness of the berries. In packing sheds the fruit will be quickly chilled using force fans.
Different methods of fruit sorting are used throughout Australia. In recent times, machine packing has been used successfully but the majority of Australian blueberries are packed through human sorting chains. All blueberries travel in refrigerated trucks to ensure they arrive fresh to their destination.
Australian blueberries are supplied to wholesalers, independent fruit shops, supermarkets and international markets such as Asia and Europe. Cooperative marketing groups have been created to allow small growers to efficiently supply both the domestic and export market. Retailers can have blueberries on their shelves within 24 hours of picking to enable consumers to buy, and enjoy, the freshest blueberries.
The Australian blueberry industry requires firm guidelines about fruit maturity at harvest; growers need to continually enforce this quality control during picking. In the present market environment, all blueberries produced in Australia can be sold for the greatest returns on the domestic market.
There are still many Australians yet to try a blueberry. 'Point of sale' promotions, trade shows and farmer's markets have provided a valuable opportunity for recruiting new consumers. Fresh blueberries compete with processed snack foods along with other fresh fruit. This is a concern as blueberries often command a premium price over most other fresh berries and other processed fruit. In a recent survey of consumers, 79% of those interviewed indicated that price was a major influence on their purchasing decision. Many commented that while they enjoyed eating blueberries, they were too expensive to eat regularly.
There are three main berry industries in Australia. The strawberry industry is the most significant, blueberry intermediate and the various Rubus species smaller. Production and sales of these fruit are steadily increasing, reflecting global trends in berry crops (also known as soft fruit) and the interest in their benefits to human health. Blueberry production more than doubled from 2002 to 2007. Within the blueberry industry, 'Pick Your Own' and organic operations are trending.
Blueberry establishment and production costs
Blueberry production is capital intensive with high development and labour costs. However, the short time interval between establishment and first returns coupled with high demand and reasonable prices will offset the high costs.
Challenging conditions that Australian blueberry growers face include drought, severe storms, water restrictions and extreme heat and fires. Availability and costs of harvest labour are becoming an increasing problem in all regions.
Growers redevelop blueberry beds when they are reaching the end of their lives. This varies for different varieties and can be determined based on the productivity of the plants.
As a new industry, growers are keen to adopt industry best management practice. All fruit for the fresh market is hand-picked to maintain the highest quality. Developing varieties suitable for mechanical harvesters and varieties that are well suited to Australian climatic conditions are ongoing goals.
Pollination is the act of transferring pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. This produces the seeds necessary to increase the quantity of fruit set on blueberry bushes. While some blueberry varieties have both the male and female organs on the same plant, not all are self-pollinating.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) managed by commercial beekeepers are currently the most suitable insect for commercial blueberry pollination in Australia. Blueberry growers have found that the more bees, the better the pollination of their crop and the larger their harvest. This is due to adequate pollination ensuring that early flowers set seed, therefore creating an early harvest and allowing the fruit the maximum amount of time to ripen.