Q&A with Joe Cornelius, Georgia Blueberry Commission

Joe Cornelius, chairman for the Georgia Blueberry Commission, based in Whitecross, Ga., talks about the direction of the blueberry industry.

What is going on in the blueberry industry at the moment?

Joe Cornelius: The industry is focusing on expansion.  New acreage is being developed during the Fall.  Although the new acreage will take 5 to 6 years until it reaches full production, it is setting the industry up for a long-term growth curve.  At the farm level, farmers are preparing for the upcoming season by making nutrient adjustments, pruning, spraying and fighting weeds.

With so much growth in the last few years and much planned for the future, it is an exciting time for the blueberry industry in the state of Georgia.

What role do imports play currently?

There are two ways our industry looks at imports.

  1. Fresh   The fresh side of the business kicks in during the season here in Georgia, mid-April through the end of July. Imports help retailers keep product on the shelves year-round, but here in the U.S. locally grown fresh Georgia blueberries are the best product to have available to consumers and we can take care of that during our season.
  2. Frozen   As far as frozen goes, that’s a year-round opportunity for Georgia blueberries. As we continue to have successful production, we’ll continue to keep U.S. retailers stocked with our US grown blueberries.

What makes the Georgia production stand out?

The Georgia blueberry industry stands out from other states for numerous reasons.  We grow different varieties of blueberries, including Highbush and RabbitEye, primarily.  We have the longest production season, starting in mid-April until end of July.

GBC are number 4 in the nation on a production level. This year we have produced 58 million pounds of blueberries. This is an impressive feat when you take in to account that 10 years ago we were only producing 18 million pounds.  To have more than doubled in ten years is an impressive feat.

What is the biggest concern/obstacle going on in the industry at the moment?

As you know, labor is a concern that affects all agricultural industries in Georgia and around the country.  As a farmer I stay focused on growing the best blueberries I can and of course, I hope this gets resolved.

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