Blueberries are one of the fruits that are native to North America. Given the variety of uses it is put to – muffins, pancakes, pies, compote, jams, jellies, ice-cream, and shortcakes – one can well imagine how popular this berry is in the United States. This tiny little goodness of juice and taste has the entire nation running behind it – arms outstretched and smacking their lips in glee. So much so that the month of July has been declared the National Blueberry Month in America!
Therefore, it doesn’t take much to reason that growing blueberries would be a major commercial enterprise in the US. New Jersey counts among the top producers of this berry and yet, surprisingly, there are very few farms that have adopted organic practices. And it’s not lack of initiative or poor demand that’s stopping people from switching to sustainable farming practices. Apparently natural obstacles are posing a threat to organic farming of blueberries.
As local signs will declare proudly, New Jersey is the “blueberry capital of the world.” While this means that farming conditions are excellent in this region there’s another, rather unfortunate, side to the picture. Blueberries are the natural food choice of insects native to this region, such as the plum curculio and the root grub. As plant pathologist Peter Oudemans explains it aptly, “Planting a solid acre of organic blueberries in New Jersey is like throwing a peanut butter sandwich into a room full of kindergartners. Everything around is going to go for them.”
With nature itself taking up arms against them, organic farmers stand to lose more than 50% of their produce each year, as compared to the 5-6% loss sustained by conventional farmers. To illustrate, farmers following regular practice of growing berries will probably get 2,000-3,000 crates of berries per acre. Organic farmers, on the other hand, will consider themselves lucky if they can get 1,000 crates per acre, in spite of putting in twice as much hard work, effort, and labor.
To make matters worse, the organic certification process is pretty tedious. In order for anybody to be certified, their fields need to be declared free of chemical fertilizers and insecticides for a period of at least three years. Those who show the enthusiasm for the certification process are soon disheartened by the painstaking paperwork and crazy costs. It is no wonder then that a state that has hundreds of farms producing blueberries, only four are certified organic farms.
With growing awareness about the benefits of organic produce, more and more consumers are making the switch and don’t hesitate paying premium price to buy organic produce. With demand increasing slowly and steadily, organic farms have yet to make up their mind whether this is good news or bad news. Talk about mixed blessings!
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