South Georgia blueberry farmers fighting back-to-back late-season freezes

Georgia blackberry growers lost more than $341 million in revenue last year

WOODBINE, Ga. – The Weather Authority and Jacksonville's National Weather Service office pointed out that blueberry crops would be impacted by the sub-freezing temperatures that spread throughout our region Thursday night into Friday morning - meteorologists hit the nail on the head with this one.

While temperatures fell to near freezing across Northeastern Florida, upper-20s set in during the pre-dawn hours across portions of Southeastern Georgia. Blueberries are harvested in Georgia from late May through mid-July. However, warm temperatures in February led to early blooms in the final weeks of winter. 

It now appears that those blooms may be in jeopardy as March freezes have become more a rule rather than the exception across the First Coast and especially in South Georgia which continues to be the center of commercial growth for the southern highbush and rabbiteye blueberries blueberry crop.

Georgia's top blueberry growing counties
County name Value
Bacon $76,710,000
Clinch 72,650,000
Appling 43,925,000
Ware 17,307,500
Pierce 10,022,500
Lanier 8,389,700
Coffee 7,970,369
Brantley 7,594,900
Atkinson 5,554,615
McIntosh 4,417,630
State total: $283,874,343

2016 data from the University of Georgia Extension

In fact, this is second freeze that many South Georgia blueberry farmers have endured. This month, the University of Georgia's Extension program received reports of damage in Pierce and Ware counties to the famous southern highbush blueberry during the first weekend in March. UGA has provided helpful commercial freeze protection information for farmers fighting these freezing temperatures.

News4Jax checked with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to see if these cold late winter blasts will impact blackberry prices in the grocery store this spring, but they said it’s too early to tell.

The council's executive director, Mark Villata, says weather-related problems in 2017 brought the Georgia crop down to 30 million pounds in 2017 compared to 67 million pounds in 2016 and that at this point, the 2018 crop looks strong and back to higher levels.

According to local farmers, Georgia blackberry growers lost more than $341 million in revenue last year due to the late winter freezes.