NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - "Are you ready for blueberry season," asked Dr. David Creech while emerging from behind large blueberry bushes at the Hayter farm off Highway 21 west in Nacogdoches County. The SFA professor and manager Henry Sunda know consumers are ready, but wonder if the growers will be ready for blueberry annual demand.
This large commercial farm lost one third of its crop following a freeze that took temperatures to 26 degrees on April 6 and 7. That's about 200,000 pounds of blueberries that won't go in pancakes, pies and muffins. On some bushes the damage is apparent. On others a closer investigation is required.
"You open up these little, tiny fruit and you look at the embryo," demonstrated Creech and Sunda with their pocket knives. "A little bit of brown in them, and when you have that kind of damage it's more than likely these may hang for awhile, but they'll end up aborting."
All is not lost. The fruit on bushes is protected by an ice sheet that was created by an overhead irrigation system survived.
"This system worked very well," said Sunda as he stood underneath one of 12 irrigation spigots that he has placed throughout 40 acres of blueberry bushes. "Everything around us is in great shape. We have a 100% crop in this area which will amount to 500,000 pounds."
They're the early varieties - the more marketable berry worth protecting. The juicy berries are shipped to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and throughout East Texas.
An overhead irrigation system really isn't cost effective for the small pick you own grower, like The Blueberry Place in eastern Nacogdoches County. Quite a few of Sherrie Randall's blueberry bushes got nipped by the freeze.
"They got sunken cheeks, like their cheeks will be sunken and if you touch them they just sort of fall off," said Randall as she puckered in her own cheeks to demonstrate how the berries just shrivel up.
The losses at both farms will cut into profits and shorten the East Texas blueberry season considerably. Fortunately, the growers are confident there will plenty of blueberries for the Nacogdoches Blueberry Festival held the second week in June. The Hayter Farm and The Blueberry Place provide berries for thousands of visitors who show up each year.