Warm weather a boon for Whatcom County blueberry, raspberry harvests

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 14, 2013 

Ideal weather in recent weeks has meant the Whatcom County blueberries are coming in earlier than usual, leaving local farmers upbeat about this year's harvest.

Typically the blueberry harvest begins later in July, but some fields already are open to u-pick. Jim Bjornstad of Bjornstad Farms said he's looking forward to a longer blueberry season that will stretch into Labor Day weekend.

"The weather has been perfect for us," said Bjornstad. "To complain (about the weather) would just be crazy. If the weather holds, this will be a nice berry season."

Blueberries are a significant crop in Whatcom County. The Washington Blueberry Commission estimates Whatcom County produced about 17 million pounds in 2010. Statewide an estimated 68 million pounds of blueberries were harvested in 2012, according to the commission.

Last month, local raspberry farmers were worried about the harvest. Cool rain and cloudy skies created some mold issues for the first raspberry picks, making much of that portion of the crop slated for juice processing. Whatcom County quickly dried out in early July, with a two-week stretch of sun, calm winds and not-too-hot weather. It's expected to continue this week, with temperatures in the 70s.

Raspberries are Whatcom County's largest berry crop, with an annual harvest of around 55 million pounds.

The good weather has also brought out the u-pick customers, Bjornstad said.

"Not only are more coming out, but they are staying out in the field longer," Bjornstad said.

Along with the good harvest weather, the spotted wing drosophila has remained somewhat contained locally. Peerbolt Crop Management, which issues a weekly small-fruit newsletter, notes the Asian fruit fly adults were not showing up in great numbers in Whatcom County traps earlier this month and that farmers are spraying to keep the pest at bay.

Editor Tom Peerbolt notes in the newsletter that it's not the time to slack off, because all of the soft fruit that's ripening makes it an ideal outbreak situation.

Bjornstad agreed, saying he believes local farmers are getting the message.

"You don't dare let your guard down now," Bjornstad said. "It's a new pest that we will probably have to live with."

If the weather forecast is correct for the coming week, it should mean a very busy Northwest Raspberry Festival, scheduled for July 19-20 in Lynden, said Gary Vis, executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce.

The festival tends to draw about 25,000 people during the two days, more if the weather is pleasant. He said that having a good harvest also can help attendance, as berries become a good topic of conversation in the community.

"It (the raspberry harvest) started a little weak, but many think this will be a heavy crop this year," Vis said.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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