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Oregon blueberry yield breaks records

This season, blueberry supply seemed to outpace demand in Oregon, a competitive market where farmers vie for U-pick stand attention and both domestic and international markets. The Oregon Blueberry Commission estimates more than 100 million pounds of commercial blueberries have been harvested across Oregon this summer, a figure higher than any prior yields.

The berries are sold to Costco, and to other large commercial outlets. Many travel around the world, taking advantage of Oregon's market share in blueberry production with South Korea.

After decades of negotiations, the Oregon Blueberry Commission expanded international trade in 2011, allowing shipping to North Korea, one of the most consistent large markets for blueberries in Asia. Now, five packers are registered participants in the Korea export program, including Salem-based Pan American Berry Growers, but several local farms and processors say, that with a saturation of fruit, they are seeing a shifting climate.

"Korea was really strong a couple years ago, but it has steadied," said Dave Dunn, the general manager of packaging and bulk producing company Willamette Valley Fruit Co.

The company still inadvertently filters blueberries to international markets, after selling to resellers and brokers.

Local blueberry grower Marty Nanneman is trying to keep it local. He processed one-third of his blueberry crop, about 80,000 pounds of blueberries, with Willamette Valley Fruit Co., for frozen packaging, and sold the rest fresh, sharing the residue between a fruit stand and several companies in Bend and Eugene.

Statewide, the commission reports many blueberry growers got an even earlier start to their early varieties, around May or early June, and finished the growing season one to two weeks earlier, with higher yields.

While the commission has yet to tally the final results, the last record blueberry intake was in 2015, 96 pounds of commercial blueberries, meaning the new record would have increased by at least 4 percent statewide.

"It's not necessarily that we had such a tremendous yield," said Nanneman. "It's just that, in the last 10 years, people have been planting blueberries on a large scale. Acreages that are just coming into full production."

The Oregon Blueberry Commission is now looking to new markets in Vietnam and the Philippines to expand international blueberry sales, as they anticipate a continued, steady growth of the local fruit yield.

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