Whatcom County's raspberry, blueberry harvest off to a good start

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 15, 2014 

The Whatcom County raspberry and blueberry harvests are off to a good start, thanks to the warm weather.

Workers will be busy for the next six weeks picking millions of pounds of berries across the county. It's a crucial time when farmers are hoping the weather cooperates, and so far it has, said Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission. He noted that while it's warm out in the county, it's not a problem yet.

"We're on the border when it comes to temperature," Bierlink said, adding that heat is preferable to rain during the harvest phase.

The raspberry harvest is expected to be smaller than last year because of some winter damage. An early frost in November and a couple of blasts of snow in February were possible culprits, but it will be studied further, he said.

Last year Whatcom County farmers harvested 63.4 million pounds of raspberries, the second-highest crop ever and up 9.8 percent compared to 2012.

While the production total is expected to be lower, the quality should be higher because of good weather conditions for raspberries during the early winter and this spring.

Early on this harvest is coming up with good grade raspberries. Doug Thomas, president of Bellingham Cold Storage, said the facility is getting a lot of raspberries that are of high enough quality to be individually quick frozen. Those berries tend to fetch a higher price than the lower-grade berries typically used for juice.

It's expected to be a bumper crop for blueberries, which have a slightly different growing schedule and were not hit as hard by the harsh winter. The Washington Blueberry Commission predicts Whatcom County will harvest 36 million pounds this year, up from the 2012 total of 28 million pounds. Across Washington state, the blueberry harvest is expected to be around 90 million pounds.

More good news: Farmers haven't seen much of the spotted wing drosophila yet. The pest established itself in the Northwest in 2009 and is attracted to overripe, soft fruit. The fly injects its eggs into ripening fruit that is still on the plant, damaging the berry. Bierlink said it hasn't arrived in Southern Oregon yet, suggesting it's not yet making its way up the West Coast. The few sightings at this point of the year are a pleasant surprise, he said.

Bierlink said farmers are continuing to take preventive measures, including spraying, because the bug still has time to surface.

Weather is expected to remain warm and dry through this week. Bierlink said most of the raspberry harvest should be done by late August, with some farmers finishing up the early varieties later this month.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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