New market: U.S. blueberry farmers to ship to Vietnam

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SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD)  — At the snow-covered blueberry fields that span South Haven, it’s abundantly clear that now is the off-season. 

But that won’t be the case for too much longer. 

“Generally (in) April we’ll start to see the buds swell up,” blueberry grower Creela Hamlin explained to 24 Hour News 8 Friday. 

From July to early September, it’s ‘go time’  —the harvest. 

While it’s not yet busy in the fields, there is major noise in the industry as a whole.

The country of Vietnam has just opened its borders to fresh blueberry imports from the United States.

“When they see that ‘Grown in the USA’ or that ‘Product of the USA’ on their supermarket shelves  — the message that that sends to them is this is high quality. This a good product,” Kevin Robson, the executive director of the Michigan Blueberry Commission, told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Saturday. 

Michigan likely won’t be the first to send its blueberries to Vietnam. Other states have an earlier harvest and will ship overseas sooner.

But Robson said there’s reason for excitement here.

“If they take blueberries from the West Coast or they take blueberries from Georgia, that does nothing but help Michigan in the end,” Robson explained. “Because when Michigan’s blueberries are ready for harvest, there’s not as much competition in the marketplace.”

Robson said despite the newly added demand, it’s unclear if that will be passed on to the consumer.  There are many factors  —including weather — that impact the crop and in turn the cost at the supermarket.

What is clear, he said, is that the new marketplace is great for local growers.

“Any blueberries being shipped out and consumed is great,” Hamlin said. “Any time we can open up a market and introduce people to our great fruit  —it’s a win for us.”

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