19 Nov 2021

USDA: GLOBAL EXPORT OF BLUEBERRIES OVER $3 BILLION BY 2025

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Thetrade and production of blueberries is expanding globally as product development raises its profile in form and function. Acclaimed for its flavour, versatility and health benefits, consumption of blueberries has expanded beyond fresh, ranging from pureed to powdered forms. blueberries are also used as ingredients and additives in food and beverages.

These new uses and forms of blueberries are combining withincreased fresh consumption to drive production worldwide. Global production and trade saw the most dramatic growth between 2010 and 2019, driven ever higher by growing consumer demand.

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Map showing the production of blueberries by country. Most of it is in North America, with the United States being the largest producer.

THE HISTORY OF THE DOMESTICATION OF BLUEBERRIES: FROM IDEA TO INDUSTRY

Thedevelopment of cultivated blueberries began in the early 1900s through the collaboration of Elizabeth White and USDA botanist Frederick Coville. Living on a farm at blueberries in New Jersey, White began conducting her research on the wild plants of blueberry highbush in 1890.

Coville began her research into the cultivation of wild blueberries in 1908. After beginning to correspond, White invited Coville to work with her on her family farm. They became business partners in 1911, harvesting and selling their first commercial crop of blueberries in 1916. (1)

Since then, commercial production of blueberries has expanded to the United States and every continent except Antarctica. Thanks to advances in genetics and production practices, blueberries were grown in at least 30 countries in 2019 and in a variety of climates.

The main classes of blueberry plants now grown commercially are highbush, lowbush (sometimes referred to as wild), half-high (a cross between highbush and lowbush species), Rabbiteye and Southern highbush. Plant production can be short or long term, with some cultivars productive for only 1-5 years or up to 40-60 years. (2)

GLOBAL PRODUCTION

Global production (3) more than doubled between 2010 and 2019, from 439,000 metric tonnes to nearly 1.0 million. During this period, the number of countries with declarable production increased from 26 to at least 30, with 27 countries increasing. In 2010, only four countries produced more than 10,000 tonnes: the United States (224,000 tonnes), Canada (84,000 tonnes), Chile (76,000 tonnes) and France (11,000 tonnes).

The number of countries producing at least 10,000 tonnes has been increasing since 2012 and has not decreased since then. In 2019, at least 11 countries exceeded the 10,000 tonne threshold. Peru had the most impressive expansion, going from less than 50 tonnes to almost 125,000 to become the fourth largest producer behind the US, Canada and Chile. Peru is now the world's leading exporter by value.

Southern hemisphere countries accounted for almost 40% of the growth in global production during this period, reaching almost 300,000 tonnes in 2019. The spread of production in the southern hemisphere has expanded the seasonal presence of blueberries on the market to all 12 months of the year, increasing availability to consumers and driving global demand.

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Bar charts showing countries producing more than 10,000 tonnes of blueberries per year. The United States, Canada and Chile were the largest producers in 2019. A second stacked bar chart shows global production of blueberries in 2010 and 2019. In 2019, production had grown significantly with most of it in the northern hemisphere.


In the USA, blueberries is the second most produced berry. (4) Until the early 1970s, they were grown commercially mainly in three states: New Jersey, Michigan and North Carolina. (5) The industry worked to develop production in other states. In the 1990s, US production reached 100 million pounds (more than 45,000 tonnes). In 2010, Michigan was the largest producer with almost 50,000 tonnes, or 22% of US production. Other states were expanding production, with Washington becoming the top producer in 2015. Washington remains the largest producer with an average of 58,000 tonnes per year and 19% of US production, while Oregon is a close second with an average of 55,000 tonnes.

The number of states that the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service includes in its annual survey was reduced from 14 states to 9 states in 2018 (the other 5 states account for less than 5% of production). However, production continued to increase, reaching a record 339,000 tonnes in 2019. US production has averaged nearly 300,000 tonnes since 2015, accounting for 36% of global production.

GLOBAL EXPORTS

The World Customs Organisation (WCO) publishes the International Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System (Harmonised System or HS), a 'multi-purpose international product nomenclature' which is a hierarchical framework consisting of 4- and 6-digit classification codes (called headings and subheadings respectively). Currently, blueberries does not have its own 6-digit classification code.

Under the HS, they are classified and harmonised under HS-6 codes that group them with other fruits of the genus Vaccinium (including blueberries), making it difficult to obtain an accurate understanding of the actual trade in blueberries. Using US Census, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and industry data as a guide, the main exporters of fresh blueberries include Peru, Chile, Mexico, USA, South Africa, Poland and Canada.

Although the value of fresh blueberries exports is not known for all exporting countries, examining these countries provides a good indication of the export situation. Using U.S. Census Bureau, Trade Data Monitor, and country data provided by FAS overseas offices, exports from these countries totaled $2.1 billion in 2019. For these seven countries, combined growth has averaged 18% annually since 2016, with Peru, Mexico, Poland, and South Africa seeing continued growth.

If exports grow by an average of 5% over the next 5 years, the value of exports from these countries alone will reach almost $3 billion by 2025. According to FAO data, (6) the global volume of exports has not declined since at least 2010, increasing by an average of 46,000 tonnes per year between 2015 and 2019. Considering the expansion of production and exports since 2010 and the continued increase in consumer demand, exports of fresh blueberries are expected to continue their upward trajectory.

Growth has been more moderate for US exports. While the value of fresh blueberries exports grew by 30% between 2010 and 2019, exports experienced 4 consecutive years of decline between 2014-2017, some of which coincided with years of lower production. On either side of that period, exports had peaked at $147 million in 2013 and have seen continued growth since 2017, rising from $107 million to nearly $121 million in 2020.

For 2021, exports from January to July are slightly ahead of last year, up $3 million to nearly $99 million. On average, more than 80% of US shipments go to Canada, worth more than $106 million in 2020. Among the top seven exporters, the US ranks fourth after Peru, Chile and Mexico.

THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL PRODUCTION

Variety research no longer relies on public institutions, but now also takes place in private industry, resulting in faster progress in genetics and varietal development. Research is underway to improve yield, berry quality, disease and pest resistance, and cold and heat resistance. There are also improvements in technology to better manage, harvest and package crops.

For example, because of its range of required chilling hours (400 to 0 hours), Southern Highbush cultivars can be grown as an evergreen, a bush management system to produce berries all year round or at specific times. Depending on the geographic area, the evergreen can prevent or manage defoliation through the timing and incisiveness of pruning.

While prevention allows year-round production, managed defoliation allows growers to control or target when the berries are ripe, and thus when they can be harvested. For managed defoliation, depending on the cultivar, the time period between pruning and harvest varies from 5 to 8 months. For example, if you aim for a May harvest, the bushes will be pruned in January. Although evergreen production is used in some areas of the United States, it has also enabled the spread of blueberries production to areas with warmer climates such as Australia, Mexico, Peru and Spain. (7)

The current varieties of blueberry all fall within the genus Vaccinium and section Cyanococcus. However, wild varieties outside Cyanococcus are known worldwide, even in more isolated areas such as the South Pacific islands. With the success of blueberries, some of these countries are starting to cultivate their own wild varieties.

Thecurrent level of scientific research does not yet allow the genetics of Cyanococcus and non-Cyanococcus varieties to be easily combined. The expected advances in genetic technology will probably make this possible in the coming decades, leading to the development of new varieties and the further spread of blueberries production. (8)

WORKING TO IMPROVE BUSINESS DATA

As noted above, blueberries are included in HS-6 codes that group blueberries with other fruits of the genus Vaccinium, such as cranberries and wild blueberries . Within the HS, blueberries are currently classified and harmonised globally under HS-6 subheadings 0810.40 (fresh), 0811.90 (frozen), and 0813.40 (dried). Monitoring trade in blueberries is difficult because only a few countries distinguish blueberries beyond the HS-6 level as the US does for fresh, frozen and dried.

Due to the considerable growth in the production and world trade of blueberries over the last 10 years, especially the trade in fresh blueberries , FAS has prepared a proposal for submission to the WCO to amend the HS by creating specific subheadings for fresh, frozen and dried blueberries , thus distinguishing them from other Vaccinium fruits. Proposals to amend the HS are usually submitted by the industry. However, due to the need for global trade data, FAS has undertaken this effort to provide clarity on trade (and therefore production) and achieve a more accurate understanding of how large the market is and where trade (and therefore production) is taking place.

FAS submitted a proposal to USITC in September 2021. If it proceeds successfully through the above process, the proposed changes will be reflected in the Harmonised System in 2027 . Although it will take several years for the changes to be implemented, in the end the changes will significantly improve our ability to understand and predict the trade of blueberries.

NOTES AND SOURCES

1 USHBC website: https://blueberry.org/about-blueberries/history-of-blueberries/

2 USDA/AMS, "USDA Vaccinium Crop Vulnerability Statement 2016, Section 1: Blueberries," Small Fruit Crop Germplasm Committee.

3 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); USDA/NASS; FAS/Lima, FAS/Warsaw, FAS/Mexico City, FAS/Pretoria; Chile = International Blueberry Organization, 2020 'State of the Industry Report, Americas.

4 "Fresh Blueberry Supplies Expand as U.S. Consumers Develop a Taste for Year-Round Blueberries," USDA/Economic Research Service, December 7, 2020(https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2020/december/fresh-blueberry-supplies-expand-as-us-consumers-develop-a-taste-for-year-round-blueberries/).

5 "A Vision for Blueberries with Denny Doyle," The Business of Blueberries Podcasts, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, episode 15, September 23, 2020.

6 "Blueberries" is identified by FAO as 081040. FAO export data is available only through 2019; not all countries report export data to FAO, including Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

7 'A Review for Southern Highbush Blueberry Alternative Production Systems,' MDPIAgronomy, volume 10, issue 10, October 2020.

8 Telephone interview with Dr. Kim Hummer; Research Leader, USDA/ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository; Corvallis, OR

Source: USDA

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