Berry Crops

SIC 0171

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in the production of cranberries, strawberries, and bush berries. Agricultural products in this last category include blackberries, blueberries, currants, dewberries, loganberries, boysenberries, and raspberries.

Industry Snapshot

The berry industry in the United States has a history as old as the continent. Native American peoples relied heavily on certain berries as a staple in their diet and passed on their knowledge of the fruit to the first European colonists. The production of cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries is a profitable agricultural enterprise that began in the early nineteenth century. In the late twentieth century, the industry became dominated by large commercial farms, particularly in states like California, Oregon, and Washington. Research and development factors have become an influential element in the industry, as increasingly larger berry-growing companies employ scientists who work to genetically improve the fruit. Researchers also strive to combat the possible side effects of one uncontrollable factor: the weather. A late spring frost can seriously damage a farm's entire harvest.

Fluctuations in consumer preferences also play a significant role in the industry. For instance, cranberries--fruit indigenous to North America--enjoyed a surge in popularity in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 2008, the United States produced a record 786.5 million pounds of cranberries. Wisconsin was the leader in cranberry production, with about 57 percent of the nation's total. Other leading states included Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.

In the late years of the first decade of the 2000s, production of strawberries, the largest segment of this classification, was led by the state of California, which produced about 88 percent of the nation's entire berry crop. Florida was also an important producer, though it lagged far behind California. Other states that contributed to the strawberry crop included Oregon, North Carolina, and Washington. Nationwide, an estimated 2.8 billion pounds, worth roughly $2.1 billion, went to market in 2009. About 82 percent went to the fresh market and 18 percent was processed.

Production of blueberries, cultivated blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries, and raspberries all increased between 2007 and 2009. Michigan was the number-one producer of blueberries, followed by New Jersey, Oregon, Georgia, and Washington. Total U.S. production of blueberries in 2009 reached 36.4 million pounds, up from 28.7 million pounds in 2007. Value, however, dropped from $531 million in 2007 to $501 million in 2009. Oregon was the dominant state in production of boysenberries, and black raspberries, whereas a majority of red raspberries were grown in Washington. On the other side of the nation, Maine accounted for a large majority of wild blueberry production.

Organization and Structure

The berry industry in the United States is increasingly dominated by large agricultural enterprises. These farms employ a staff of horticulturists to develop and perfect new varieties of berries. Production and processing work on both commercial and smaller farms is carried out by large numbers of seasonal workers at harvest time. The berries are shipped out to a distribution center, where each farm receives the market price for its crop. Fresh berries destined for supermarkets are then shipped as quickly as possible, while the rest of the fruit is sent to processing centers to be frozen or used in other products such as juices. Larger commercial enterprises may have an in-house marketing staff that works with grocers to place their product in large eye-catching displays. However, much of the advertising end of the berry business is taken care of by umbrella groups. For instance, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., a Lakeville, Massachusetts-based cooperative of growers, launched national print, television, and radio advertising campaigns in the early years of the first decade of the 2000s to increase consumer awareness of the fruit. In the strawberry industry, growers belong to the California Strawberry Commission, a collective organization responsible for marketing the fruit at both the height of strawberry season as well as in leaner months. This last type of group relies heavily on cooperative advertising efforts with grocery chains and produce retail outlets, but this is sometimes a difficult task. The campaign must be coordinated based on predictions of the likely date of the crop's ripeness, coupled with incorporation of other factors such as weather conditions and shipping problems.

The production and sale of all types of berries benefited from increased consumer health consciousness in the late twentieth century. Beginning in the 1980s, people began to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets as a way to reduce fat and increase vitamin and nutrient intake. Research in the 1990s revealed that berries are high in vitamin C and fiber, are low in calories, and contain high levels of antioxidants. The demand for berries of all types dramatically increased over the years and in some cases even doubled. In the early years of the first decade of the 2000s, the Agricultural Research Service discovered that blueberries, cranberries, and huckleberries contained resveratrol, a compound believed to help prevent cancer.

Cranberry harvests also enjoyed a boom in the early part of the first decade of the 2000s. In 1977, total output was 2.1 million barrels, valued at $38.1 million. By 2003, production had nearly tripled to over 5.7 million barrels. Factors contributing to this increase included the lack of marketing restrictions in 2002 and 2003. Whereas growers were once allowed to sell only 65 percent of their average sales to processors, the lifting of these restrictions in 2002 allowed them to increase acreage significantly. In 2008, U.S. cranberry production reached a record 7.8 million barrels.

The increases in harvests were also due to improvements in crop management that allowed growers to harvest more berries per acre and at the same time better control some effects of inclement weather. Sales of fresh cranberries are tied to a short season in the fall, when they are harvested. Traditionally, this segment accounts for only about 5 percent of the fruit's sales, but the product's use in traditional holiday dishes generates a strong demand during those few weeks. Dried cranberries or "craisins," on the other hand, have helped expand the cranberry market beyond seasonal demand due to their use in cereals and fruit mixes.

Current Conditions

Strawberry production was the most viable of all sub-industries classified in the category in the late years of the first decade of the 2000s. Their production and value escalated substantially throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. In 1977 the value of U.S. strawberry crops totaled $219 million. By 2002, the value of these crops had grown nearly fivefold to $1.08 billion. By 2009, this figure had doubled to $2.1 billion. California remained the most important state in this category, planting and harvesting 39,800 acres of strawberries in 2009. Florida planted and harvested 8,800 acres; Oregon, 1,700 acres; and North Carolina and Washington, 1,500 acres each. By 2009, yield per acre nationwide had grown to 48,200 pounds, up from 40,100 pounds in 2000 and 27,200 pounds in 1990.

Research and Technology

Combating insect population and the ravages of horticultural diseases is a major preoccupation of berry growers across the United States. In states where a certain fruit is a vital component of the area's agricultural economy, government-financed research stations exist to study growing methods and problems. At the UMass Cranberry Station, for instance, horticulturists and entomologists discovered in 1929 that the blunt-nosed leafhopper was responsible for the scourge of the "false-blossom" disease, which had devastated cranberry harvests for decades. They researched ways to eradicate it through pesticides and fertilizers. Cranberry producers have also experimented with increasing the yield from each crop in processing the berry. Since 1955, they have managed to triple the amount of product from each acre.

In the strawberry industry, research has played a vital role in the development of the business since World War II. Working with the California Department of Agriculture, growers were able to create new varieties of the fruit that could better withstand insects and the vagaries of rain and wind. Research into improved growing and harvesting methods, in conjunction with university agricultural labs, also made a great impact on the state's strawberry industry. By the early 1990s, one acre of land could produce 25 tons of the fruit, a tenfold increase over a decade. Other research has looked at increasing the amount of nutrients in fruits. In the 1980s, government researchers detected traces of ellagic acid in strawberries, a compound thought to have cancer-inhibiting qualities. Since then, experiments have been conducted to increase the amount of the acid in the fruit as well as in other berries. In addition, research has shown that strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries contain high concentration of phytonutrients, which can help prevent diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Research reports have also asserted that raspberries and strawberries have their own natural mold-inhibiting compounds. Termed 2-nonanone, this compound occurs naturally in the fruit; when used to chemically treat the berry, it further prolongs the shelf life of the fruit with no adverse effects.

Research has also played a role in creating new product segments in this industry. For example, the boysenberry is a type of fruit developed from loganberry, blackberry, and raspberry strains, yielding a seedless berry ideal for jams.

In 1998, five new cultivars (varieties) of blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries were developed and released that had the advantage of ripening before or after the typical growing season, which made the berries available longer throughout the summer. The new berry cultivars were also developed to produce much larger fruit than existing commercial counterparts. One of the cultivars, the Black Butte berry, is almost twice the size of most fresh blackberries. The Siskiyou cultivar, which ripens a couple weeks ahead of the main berry season, developed a niche market. The Chandler cultivar, a highbush blueberry, is a large midseason berry that provides ripe fruit for four to five weeks. Most blueberries ripen over a three-week period. Two new strawberry cultivars, named Firecracker and Independence, produce berries longer, thus extending the strawberry season up to three weeks. The development of new cultivars continued well into the early 2010s.

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News and information about Berry Crops

Tiny Flies from Away Are Wreaking Havoc on Late-Season Berry Crops
Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME); September 28, 2017; 700+ words
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Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA); June 9, 2016; 700+ words
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US Fed News Service, Including US State News; July 17, 2013; 700+ words
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Republican & Herald (Pottsville, PA); May 29, 2015; 700+ words
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Southeast Farm Press (Online Exclusive); April 12, 2011; 700+ words
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The Seattle Times (Seattle, WA); August 28, 2011; 700+ words
Byline: David Lester; Yakima Herald-Republic SELAH, Yakima County -- Cooperative Extension Agent Mike Bush hunches over the table, peering through a magnifier at seven tiny, black specks. Collected from a plastic trap holding a mixture of vinegar and soap, the specks are fruit flies. But none of

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