Blueberries are well known for their excellent taste, numerous health benefits, and versatile uses for consumers; and good economic returns for growers. There are currently about
400 acres of blueberries grown in Ohio. These blueberry farms are scattered all over the state of Ohio. Most of our blueberry farms are not huge. The biggest one has about 27 acres while others may have 20, 15 or 10 acres. Many of them are between 1 to 5 acres. Due to high costs of labor, most of the blueberry farms in Ohio are pick-your-own. For consumers, it is a lot of fun to spend a few hours picking blueberries at a blueberry farm. They can also purchase pre-picked blueberries if they do not feel like picking that day. For growers, they save a lot of labor costs on harvesting. Nothing beats sweet ripe blueberries fresh from a blueberry farm near you!
Whether you are thinking about growing blueberries as cash crop as a new grower or have questions about commercial blueberry production, you are at the right place. Dr. Gary Gao is the main contact person for blueberry production in Ohio. He has years of experience on blueberry production. He also visited numerous blueberry farms in Ohio and other states. Dr. Gao has been quite fortunate to have received a few specialty Crop Block Grants to work on blueberries. He is eager to share what he knows about blueberries with you! You are also welcome to visit him or his research assistant Ryan slaughter at OSU South Centers to check their blueberry plantings.
Blueberry Production Information:
Growers are encouraged to download a copy of the Midwest Blueberry Production Guide as a handy reference. Dr. Gary Gao is one of the co-authors of this bulletin. A lot of pictures in this bulletin are either from commercial blueberry farms in Ohio or the blueberry plantings at OSU South Centers near Piketon, Ohio.
High Tunnel Blueberry Research
Blueberry is typically grown in the open field in Ohio. High tunnel blueberry production is not common method. A high tunnel blueberry production was conducted in 2012 and 2013. We installed a high tunnel over a mature blueberry planting. The results from the two year study were not conclusive. However, growers are still encouraged to read the paper/report for more information. Follow this information for more information: https://www.nacaa.com/journal/index.php?jid=780
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get started?
There are many factors. Proper site selection is the key. Blueberry bushes need acidic soil, good drainage, and an even supply of water. It is important to do a soil test to determine soil pH, lime index, organic matter content and nutrient values. Dr. Gao can help you review your soil test report and give you some suggestions. The ideal soil pH is around 4.5 to 5.2. Growers use elemental sulfur to low soil pH, build raised beds to improve soil drainage, and install drip irrigation for water. Make sure you test your irrigation water for alkalinity since high alkalinity can hurt blueberry bushes. Inject sulfuric acid with an injector to lower water pH. Blueberry bushes need a lot of water and need to be watered every other day. Hence, a pond may be necessary to supply enough water during the summer months.
What blueberry cultivars should I grow?
There are many blueberry cultivars available out there? Not all of them are good for Ohio. We are not the #1 blueberry production state for a reason, or a few reasons. Well drained and acidic soil can be the main reasons. You should grow the blueberry cultivars that have been shown to grow well in Ohio. Some of them are Blue Crop, Blue Ray, Draper, Elliot, Legacy, Nelson, and Sweetheart. Other cultivars can be added as you get good at blueberry production. They are Bluetta, Bonus, Chandler, Duke, Spartan, and many others. For a more comprehensive list of suggested blueberry cultivars, refer to the Midwest Blueberry Production Guide for more information. It is always a good idea to plant multiple cultivars for cross pollination purpose. Blueberry bushes will produce more fruits if multiple cultivars are planted.
How much does it cost to establish an acre of blueberries?
Well, that depends how you make it happen? Typical spacing in Ohio is 4-6 feet between plants and 10 feet between rows. Hence, the plants cost you a few thousand dollars. Drip irrigation system can cost around $1,500 depend on the type and vary by a thousand on either side. Another big cost is bird netting, which can run from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousand dollars.
How long does it take before my blueberry bushes produce fruits?
Blueberry bushes can really test your patience! Flower buds should be removed from the bushes during the year of planting. Some growers will even remove fruits during the second year. You will get a small crop during the third year. Hopefully, the fruit yields will keep rising during the subsequent years. Blueberry bushes should reach full maturity in the seventh year. With proper care, blueberry bushes can last a long time! I have seen very productive bushes that are 50-60 years old!
Average yield of blueberries in Ohio varies a lot. It can be as low as 3,000 pounds per acre and as high as 8,000 pounds per acre. The average you-pick price for blueberries is around $3.50 per pound as of 2017.
How do I manage the insects and diseases in blueberries?
Blueberry bushes do get a few insects and diseases. Since we are not a major blueberry production state, we have to rely on other states for pest management information. For a comprehensive pest spray schedule, refer to the Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide for more information.