Although Georgia may be known as the Peach State - and peaches are an important part of Georgia’s economy - since 2005 the most valuable fruit produced in Georgia has been blueberries. And the growth of blueberry production has continued; as of 2012 the value of blueberries grown in Georgia was approximately $94 million! Georgia currently ranks fourth in the nation in blueberry production, but if the growth continues to increase at its current pace, it could well lead the nation within the next decade (Update: indeed by 2014 Georgia has overtaken Michigan to become the country’s leading producer of blueberries). Georgia’s blueberry production is aided by the state having the longest growing season in in the country, lasting from late April through the end of July. In 2012 alone, Georgia blueberry growers produced 77 million pounds of blueberries grown on more than 16,000 acres of orchards.
What has made Georgia such a major producer of blueberries in a relatively short amount of time? Georgia has the sandy, acidic soil ideal for growing blueberries, and has it in large quantities - more than any other southern state. While blueberries are grown in all areas of the state, production is centered primarily in southeastern Georgia, where this ideal soil is in abundance. Georgia’s climate is ideal as well, with short winters and nice, warm spring and summer temperatures.
While Georgia has only recently become a major producer of blueberries, there is a longer history for the fruit in Georgia. In 1925, blueberries were brought in from Florida and planted at the Tifton campus of the University of Georgia. In the early 1940s, Georgia legislator Cason J. Callaway worked to get funding to further establish blueberry breeding in Tifton. In 1944, researchers from the USDA established a research site in southeastern Georgia. Blueberry growth developed slowly in the 1950s and 1960s with only around 100 acres of blueberries being grown in scattered locations across Georgia. Then, in the early 1970s, federal grant money allowed the purchase of mechanical harvesters and the establishment of the Georgia Blueberry Association to encourage blueberry production. Soon there were some 1,500 acres planted in south Georgia. The number of acres steadily increased in the 1980s and 1990s, and has grown rapidly in the 21st century to its present state - with about 85% of production remaining in southeast Georgia.
Some of the blueberries grown in Georgia are sold fresh; others are frozen and shipped to markets across the nation and the world. There has also been an increase in the number of pick-your-own blueberry farms in Georgia - as the healthy aspects of blueberries have become commonly known. Blueberries are considered a “superfood” by dieticians because they are loaded with vitamin C, iron, fiber, and heart healthy antioxidants. Best of all, there are only 80 calories in a cup of these delicious fruit berries! Ironically, the land on which this “superfood” is primarily grown was once largely used for a very unhealthy product - tobacco. Fortunately, as use of tobacco has lessened, the land is becoming more useful to both the state’s economy and the health of the nation to grow Georgia blueberries!
For more information on Georgia blueberries, visit the Georgia Blueberry Commission.