Professor Scarecrow Blueberries

Types History Production Shipping Nutrition
Vocabulary Quiz


Blueberries are a big summer time crop in North Carolina. Many North Carolinian growers belong to the NC Blueberry Council, Inc. This group works hard to look out for the special interests and needs of a blueberry grower.

There are two main families of blueberries, each having three different types of blueberries. The first family is Major Highbush. Its varieties are Croatan, Jersey and Murphy. This type is ready to be harvested early in the season and can withstand a heavier chill (colder weather) than the other variety. Major Highbush is used mostly when sold fresh and not frozen.

The other type of blueberry is Rabbiteye. These varieties include Premier, Tifblue and Powderblue. These blueberries are ready later in the season and can't take as cold a chill as the Major Highbush variety. Rabbiteye blueberries are known as a southern type berry.

Blueberries have their own special months when the crop is recognized for its importance. Nationally in the United States, blueberries are celebrated in July. In North Carolina blueberries are celebrated in June.

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Blueberries are native to North America. Explorers made note of wild blueberries on their explorations. Samuel de Champlain in 1615 saw Native Americans along Lake Huron harvesting blueberries.

Blueberries were first planted in North Carolina in 1936. There was an entrepreneur from New Jersey who grew blueberries. He decided that his growing season wasn't long enough in New Jersey to harvest as many blueberries as he wanted to. So he began to look for a place to plant his blueberries that would harvest at a different time so that he'd have a longer production time.

The blueberries from New Jersey were brought to the farm of Harold Huntington of Cooperstown, NC. Mr. Huntington's 1,000 acre farm was located between Atkinson, NC and Ivanhoe, NC. A second tract was purchased by Gale Harrison from New Jersey. Along with local farmers, these newcomers set berries and soon a business was born. They affiliated with a distributor in New Jersey where the crop was shipped by railroad from Atkinson.

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Blueberries are used in a variety of ways. Approximately 58% of the total blueberry crop in North America is frozen. 24% is sold fresh and 18% is canned. In North Carolina about 75% is sold fresh and 25% is sold frozen.

There was a time when blueberries were only available to buy during harvest season. As new and improved ways to store and ship blueberries were made, blueberries could be frozen so that they could be bought year round. Blueberries also can be found all the time in your local grocery store in about 35 different products. Some example are cereals, jellies, syrup, baked goods, yogurt, ice cream, juices and baby foods.

Another advancement that has helped the blueberry industry is the improvements in the irrigation systems. Irrigation systems help to keep the blueberries watered. Although the amount of land that blueberries are grown on has gotten smaller in the past 20 years, the amount of blueberries grown have doubled due to better irrigation.

Freezing technology has also changed over the years. Blueberries used to be dried or canned only, blueberries now can be frozen. The majority of blueberries are still sold as fresh product like in the produce department of your local grocery store.

Blueberries popularity has increased with people eating more blueberries than they have in the past. In fact, people are eating 50% more blueberries than they did ten years ago! Industry experts are predicting that growers will increase the number of blueberry plants in their fields as a way of getting more blueberries at harvest time to meet the demand.

Today more and more growers are using machines to harvest the plants for fresh berries. A focus is also being placed on irrigation being used more in the fields. Scientists are also developing new varieties of blueberries for future use.

North Carolina is large and certain crops do better in specific areas of the state. Commercial growers are people who grow blueberries to sell, not for their own use. These growers are very interested in making sure that blueberries are grown correctly and in the right places around the state. Blueberries are planted throughout the state, with the major commercial production area being the southeastern part of North Carolina. Bladen County is the largest producer of blueberries while the entire Piedmont area of North Carolina produces the least.

Blueberries can't be grown successfully in commercial production in other sections of the state because blueberries need the type of climate found in southeastern North Carolina. Blueberries require a highly organic and acidic soil with an ideal pH of 4.5, which is found in the southeast. Water which is found below the ground must be within 36 inches of the surface which is common in southeastern North Carolina.

Blueberries also need to have some cold weather, about 600 to 1,200 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, to leaf and fruit normally in a temperate climate. Areas of full sun are best for blueberry production. Known as a woody perennial, blueberries are in the field year round though the growing season is mid-May through August.

Though all growers hope for a good season, sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. Sometimes the weather is too cold, too rainy or too dry. Growers have to plan in advance for this and take precautions. Blueberries run the biggest risk of experiencing very cold weather and frosts. Blueberry growers use irrigation for frost protection. When the weather reaches between 34 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit, irrigation begins. Water is released, spraying the plants and covering them. This water changes to ice. When water changes from a liquid to a solid like this, heat is released. This helps to keep the plants above 32 degrees Fahrenheit so that the plants do not freeze and die from very cold weather.

Growers have to worry not only about growing conditions and the weather, but also insects and pests. To prevent bugs from eating the plants, or funguses growing on the plants, special chemicals are used. Fungicides, herbicides and insecticides are used to keep blueberries in tip top condition.

When blueberries are planted they are already small plants, not seeds. Growers take plants that are already growing and take cuttings from them. They then put these cuttings outside in a rooting bed in winter or summer. Summer cuttings root in six weeks and winter cuttings root in 6 months. Rooted cuttings are transplanted to the field in the winter when they are dormant to prevent damage to the plants.

Once the rooted cuttings are in the field, it takes awhile for the plant to fruit. In fact berries shouldn't be expected until the third year. The peak production will occur in about eight years. Plants can continue in production for decades before needing to be replaced.

When the berries are ripe they are hand or machine picked and are immediately taken to a packing shed. There they are packaged in plastic pint containers called clamshells. This is then refrigerated or frozen as quickly as possible on the same day it is harvested.

In today's world of technology, machines help the grower every step of the way. Though some blueberries are hand-picked, many growers use machines to do this. There are automated packaging equipment that puts the berries into the clamshells. Modern cold storage facilities are used, often monitered by computers to keep the temperatures accurate. Before machines, all packaging was done by hand. People would scoop blueberries into a wooden cup and cover it in cellophane.

Before blueberries are packaged, they must be graded according to North Carolina and United States law. This is to keep damaged or infected fruit from making it to your plate at home. Blueberries are cleaned and inspected during the packing process.

Growers often use USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) inspectors to examine their product for quality. Inspectors take random samples of the berries and examine them closely to assure that quality standards are met. There is one US Grade for blueberries, a US No. 1. A No. 1 berry means that it is good and has passed the standards, anything else is rejected and would not be sold.

Inspectors look at blueberries for some basic requirements. These are that the berries are similar, clean, well colored, not overripe, not crushed, split or leaking, and not wet. The berries would also be free from attached stems, mold, decay, insects or evidence of insects, mummified berries and clusters. Berries must also not be shriveled, have broken skins, scars or green berries.

Once the USDA inspectors have determined that the blueberries are safe for eating, they are then packaged. Fresh berries are most commonly packaged in one-pint clamshells. They are then put into cardboard packages called flats which hold 12 clamshells. Frozen berries are packaged in 30 lb. boxes. Blueberries are packaged this way because it is an industry standard. This means that all blueberry growers pack the same way so that it all looks alike when it gets to the store or when you buy it.

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Most North Carolina blueberries go to retail stores like supermarkets, rather than going into restaurants. Blueberries must be taken from the farm to the stores in refrigerated trucks to keep the blueberries fresh or to keep the frozen blueberries frozen.

In the early days of production, North Carolina blueberries were shipped by trains to the Northern markets. Now along with refrigerated trucks for delivery in the USA, blueberries are transported by air and by sea for international markets.

Before blueberries go to the store, most are handled through marketing organizations who collect berries from several growers and ship them to large warehouses. These people then sell the blueberries to the supermarkets for the growers. They then will put the berries on the refrigerated trucks and take them to each store for you to buy. Most fresh North Carolina berries are sold in the Northeast United States in major metropolitan areas. Some are sent to Canada and Europe and occasionally to Japan.

Once the blueberries get to the store, people buy it to use fresh, in baking, in salads, as jellies and jams, as a topping for cereal, ice cream and yogurt. When you go to the store to buy blueberries you should choose berries that are plump, firm and relatively free from leaves and stems.

You can also look at the label on the clamshell. Berries must say that they are blueberries and identify how much is in the container along with the growers or distributors name and address. Sometimes labels are written in French for the people who buy berries in Canada. Some growers put their logos or artwork on the labels so that it looks different from other blueberry packages. Each label also has a barcode on it in a standard code for the industry. This is so that the check-out person at the supermarket can scan your berries when checking you out. This also helps the store keep track of how many blueberries they have sold.

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Blueberries are part of the fruit group in the food pyramid. People should eat between two and four servings of fruit every day. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C. They also contain vitamin A, iron, potassium and magnesium. Blueberries are also a good source of carbohydrates and fiber. They are fat free and contain no cholesterol. Blueberries only contain 42 calories for a = cup serving.

     Blueberries are a great choice for eating and snacking! Make sure to check your local supermarket for great North Carolina blueberries during season. And remember Goodness Grows In North Carolina!!

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1. entrepreneur: a person who organizes, operates and takes the risk of running a business
2. perennial: a plant that lasts or is active through the year or many years

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