I visited Washington State and biked past a blueberry farm in the Skagit Valley. I stopped for a mini photo shoot (see attached photos). I didn’t see any signs to indicate the name of the farm, however when I did a little search on the internet, my guess is that is was a field belonging to Bow Hill Blueberries(1), established in 1947. They have 4500 plants and seem to do a thriving business including value-added products, U-pick and retail sales of fresh berries. According to their website they employ only 4-6 part-time, year-round employees and up to 25 kids and adults to had-harvest and pack 60,000 lbs of blueberries.
I became curious about start up costs and efforts for blueberry farms and found a nice analysis put out by Oregon State University(2). Although interesting, we have such a different situation in Alaska and especially in the Interior. Some differences that I can think of:
1. Material costs for infrastructure are higher in Alaska due to shipping
2. Plant material differs due to climate. The farms in Oregon, Washington and even in Southcentral AK can grow different cultivars of blueberries successfully. From my (limited) observations, Interior blueberries growers might be best off growing the native species.
3.Alaskans have a do-it-yourself mentality and I wonder how in demand the purchase of blueberries would be considering there are so many available to pick on one’s own for free in the wilds of AK.
4. The native bog blueberry fruits are quite small and if grown commercially the harvesting techniques and speed of harvest might be slower than larger-fruited cultivars 5. Finding laborers to pick the crop may be challenging. Value-added products might be necessary for profiting from a blueberry farm in the Interior.
Again, I have more questions than I do answers. I believe that we have a potential opportunity to capitalize on our local bog blueberry, their distinct flavor and high antioxidant levels compared to other blueberries (3). However, there is a lot to be figured out for helpful guidelines of how to profit from growing blueberries in a cultivated setting in the Interior.
1. Bow Hill Blueberries. Website
2. Julian, James W. et al. 2011. Blueberry Economics: The costs of establishing and producing blueberries in the Willamette Valley. North Willamette Research and Extension Center, Oregon State University.
3. Dinstel, Roxie Rodgers et al. 2013. The antioxidant level of Alaska’s wild berries: high, higher and highest. International Journal of Circumpolar Health 72: 10.3402/ijch.v72i0.21188.