The blueberry season at Minto Island Growers is winding to a close, which provides a moment to pause and reflect on the season and some unique challenges facing Oregon’s fresh fruit agriculture. This is the ninth season for the Minto Island Growers farm. We’ve been lucky to have a five acre organic blueberry plot for the last eight, with additional access to our neighboring family blueberry farm planted by my grandfather Walt in the 1970’s. The latter berries are grown conventionally, machine picked and sold all over the world. The bushes are large, lush and gorgeously picture perfect – a difficult sight to mimic when managing a crop organically.
For the past several years we have been taken by surprise at the earliness of all the fresh fruit crops, springing into action to pick for CSA and open to U-Pickers several weeks earlier than previous seasons. This is due to a greater number of accumulated heat units that push the crop maturity earlier. Many say this earliness could be attributed to climate change, though increasing unpredictability in weather patterns could also mean later crop maturation in future years. In our tiny time as farmers, watching the weather closely, we can only really point to micro trends. However any fresh berry eater living in Oregon can relate to the feeling that EVERYTHING is happening earlier and often times faster, with the various berry types getting compressed. “Where did the strawberries go? Wait, blueberries are almost done, and how about the marion and blackberries?! But early peaches are welcome distraction…” And so it goes. While we used to reliably have blueberries in our fields until mid-July, the recent trend is that they are nearly gone by late June. This is one of the reasons that we try and give you so many blueberries while they are ripe because before we all know it, they’re gone and sorely missed until next year.
A new variable in Oregon fresh fruit production is the arrival and build-up to persistent levels of the spotted wing drosophila. This is an Asian origin fruit fly that unlike normal drosophila, attacks fresh fruit rather than rotted fruit. Very, very unfortunately for Oregon fresh fruit growers, these bugs are incredibly difficult to manage and have caused many growers to have to spray, very regularly, to prevent all out loss of the crop. We have gone to workshops and seminars and kept up with all the latest research, in particular seeking methods of organic controls that don’t center on sprays. Even if we choose to use an organically approved spray, they require a spray regime every 3-4 days (attempting to get the flies in the air) and prove to be minimally effective. A contact killer spray with applications this frequent would do harm to natural predators, let alone the cost and bother of application.
What do these pesky pests and global weirding mean for those of us who LOVE fresh Oregon fruit?! It means keeping in touch with local farms and being ready to jump on the fresh fruit season (yay for you CSA members!) It also means asking the right question of your farmers about their management philosophies and practices and being educated and supportive of farmers in light of the very unique challenge of pests such as the spotted wing drosophila. Depending on your tolerance for non-organic production methods, it also might mean not eating some of your favorite fruits or adapting your standards to make room for lower quality and/or fruit that has been sprayed. As farmers, we are constantly evaluating the road between successfully growing a crop, turning that into a economical livelihood and respecting and nurturing ecological systems.
This article originally appeared in the Minto Island Growers CSA Newsletter on July 7, 2016