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Blueberries Were Commercially Cultivated in the 1910s After a Long History as a Regional Wild Food.

Blueberries are a large group of perennial flowering plants that produce blue or purple berries. They are classed as Cyanococcus within the Vaccinium genus. Cranberries, bilberries, huckleberries, and Madeira blueberries are also members of the Vaccinium genus. Blueberries, both wild and cultivated, are native to North America. But did you know when they were first commercially cultivated?

After a long history as a regional wild food, blueberries were commercially cultivated in the 1910s.

The Story About Blueberries Cultivation

Elizabeth White and USDA botanist Frederick Coville worked together to establish farmed blueberries in the early 1900s. In the 1890s, while living on a cranberry farm in New Jersey, White began investigating wild highbush blueberry plants. In 1908, Coville started his investigation into producing wild blueberries. White invited Coville to work on her family farm once they began corresponding. They formed a partnership in 1911 and harvested and sold their first commercial crop of blueberries in 1916.

Since then, commercial blueberry cultivation has extended to every continent except Antarctica and the United States. Blueberries were grown in at least 30 nations and various climates in 2019, thanks to genetics and production strategies breakthroughs. Blueberry plants are classified into four types: highbush, lowbush, half-high, Rabbiteye, and Southern highbush. Plant production can be brief or long-lived, with some cultivar plants producing for as little as 1-5 years and others producing for as long as 40-60 years. (Source: Foreign Agricultural Service)

The Global Production

Between 2010 and 2019, global production increased from 439,000 metric tons to approximately 1.0 million. During this period, the number of countries with reportable output increased from 26 to at least 30, with 27 showing growth. Only four countries generated more than 10,000 tons in 2010: the United States (224,000 tons), Canada (84,000 tons), Chile (76,000 tons), and France (76,000 tons) (11,000 tons). The number of countries producing at least 10,000 tons rose in 2012 and has been stable since then. By 2019, at least 11 countries had exceeded the 10,000-tonne mark. Peru experienced the most rapid growth, going from less than 50 tons to about 125,000 tons to become the fourth-largest producer behind the United States, Canada, and Chile. Peru is presently the world’s largest exporter in terms of value.

Southern Hemisphere countries account for roughly 40% of global output growth, reaching nearly 300,000 tons in 2019. Expanding production to the Southern Hemisphere has extended blueberries’ seasonal market presence to all 12 months of the year, increasing consumer availability and driving global demand.

Blueberries are the second-most produced berry in the United States.4 Until the early 1970s, they were mainly commercially farmed in New Jersey, Michigan, and North Carolina. The industry attempted to increase manufacturing in other states. In the 1990s, the United States produced 100 million pounds or more than 45,000 tons. Michigan was the leading producer in 2010, with over 50,000 tons, accounting for 22 percent of total US production. Other states increased output, with Washington becoming the top grower in 2015.

Washington is the leading producer, accounting for 58,000 tons per year and 19 percent of total US production, with Oregon coming in second at 55,000 tons. The number of states covered in the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s annual survey decreased from 14 to 9 in 2018. However, output has steadily increased, reaching a new high of 339,000 tons in 2019. Since 2015, the US has averaged around 300,000 tons annually, accounting for 36% of the worldwide supply. (Source: Foreign Agricultural Service)

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