Poland: Blueamber upbeat over blueberry prospects
The company said producers have been encouraged by a winter which, although long, was not as heavy as the year before. This means the majority of the sector did not suffer any substantial damage to their 2013 blueberry crop.
Blueamber managing director, Bohdan Marcinkowski, said the long winter delayed flowering of early varieties, leading to a slightly later start to harvesting. He did predict, however, a record crop of early blueberries, particularly of the Duke variety.
“The weather has been favorable for us – we had a cool, dry autumn that allowed the plants to rest well, followed by mild winter,” he said.
“Also, we were spared the spring frosts in our region of North Pomerania, which might have affected some growers in Poland during May.
“At the moment we are experiencing some rain, but winds dry the plants and land quickly and we have not had any serious problems.”
Marcinkowski said heavy rains, particularly in southern Poland, had left some blueberry farms with a higher level of water than average, which he said “may bring some loss on crops and problems with grey mold.”
However, in general, Marcinkowski said the season was looking good this year.
As a company, Marcinkowski said Blueamber’s principal objective for 2013 was to boost its image as an organic berry producer.
“Out of our 100 Ha, 40 Ha is organic – we are true believers of the idea that eating organic is living healthy and we would like to promote ourselves as an organic farm and extend our organic market,” he explained.
To achieve this, Marcinkowski said Blueamber tried to be as organic as possible by not using using pesticides, even with conventional production.
Blueamber, he continued, was aiming to develop a spectrum of early, middle and late varieties to be able to offer clients berries from early July to early October. The varieties include Duke, Spartan, Patriot, Sunrise, Brigitta Blue, Ozark, Elliot, as well as new varieties such as Draper and Aurora.
“Ours and our customers’ favorite is Sunrise, which is valued for its exceptional flavor and appearance,” Marcinkowski said.
However, like all Polish blueberry farms, Marcinkowski said volumes produced by Blueamber’s fields each season could vary substantially from year to year, as a consequence of unpredictable weather conditions, which he described as the greatest challenge for Polish producers.
“The unstable weather is the biggest problem that faces Polish blueberry producers,” he explained.
“Last year, for example, it caused serious crop and plant damage on many farms.
“We also had very small production due to serious winter loss, but this season we expect to have good yield of each berry.”
Marcinkowski said a second problem that was causing difficulties for Polish berry producers was the possible appearance of Drosophila suzukii – a pest new to Poland, which can be difficult to treat and can cause serious damage to soft fruit farms.
He said Polish growers were also facing a labor shortage, which would have to be mitigated where possible by bringing in seasonal migrant workers from eastern European countries.
However, in spite the challenges, Marcinkowski said Blueamber was confident of achieving volume increases over future seasons.
“Our blueberry farm is not in full production yet as the plants are only a couple of years old. Our target is 1,000 metric tons of production per season,” he said.
“We also try to protect our farm where possible by making appropriate anti-frost installations and by choosing varieties which are best for our climate.”
Blueamber’s blueberry season typically lasts from early July through to mid-September, although Marcinkowski said the company now had storage facilities in place to enable it to continue to sell soft fruit through to the first week of October.
The U.K. and Germany are the company’s principal markets, although it also sells substantial volumes to Scandinavia and, to a lesser extent, to Japan and South Africa.
“Asia and Africa do not buy great volumes, but they are regular customers and not as restrictive as some European clients,” Marcinkowski said, who believes the former market in particular could greatly increase in importance in the future.
“The Asian market is interesting as its demand is growing fast compared with Europe or North America,” he said.
“It’s not a big market yet, but we believe it has a future potential.
“We think Russia may also be interesting as luxurious fruit such as berries are becoming more and more popular there,” he added.