Blueberry Growers establish Georgia Berry Exchange
The Georgia Blueberry Growers Association has voted to disband and re-form as the Georgia Berry Exchange (GBE). The action took place at the Southeast Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association meeting in Savannah in January.
The decision was made to accomplish multiple goals, according to GBE President Jerome Crosby.
First is the ability to gather data from growers about pricing and volumes of fruit moving during the season, which Crosby said could only be done by a cooperative. Gathering this data allows the growers to have more information about marketplace supply and demand, which puts them in a better position when negotiating prices with retailers.
“I think that if the retailers recognize that Georgia has an adequate supply of blueberries coming through the pipeline, they will not be as dependent upon reaching into South America to source the berries,” Crosby said.
To demonstrate the need to remove guesswork from pricing blueberries, Crosby gave a scenario in which market prices could be skewed by an isolated incident: When the market is at $27 or $28 per flat (12 pints) and then there are some berries sold for $22 per flat, it can cause wholesale prices to drop in the market when the reality is that the $22 sale was a pallet and a half of prepacked fruit that had some issue.
“It represents no volume, but it could make way too much noise in the pricing world. This helps us weed out bad pieces of information,” Crosby said.
Second, the way the previous body was structured, it couldn’t legally sell blueberries grown by its members. It could work to educate the public about their products, support research and promote the fruit and related products. GBE was formed as a marketing cooperative to allow the option of selling.
“Not that the exchange at this time is pursuing the marketing of the fruit, but we have that legal capacity,” Crosby said. “We intend to continue promoting blueberries as we’ve done historically.”
GBE was set up to comply with both state and federal statutes, which allows them to accept data or sell berries on behalf of growers in other states.
Third, the group concluded that it needed more emphasis on political advocacy to ensure the needs of blueberry growers are met at state and federal levels. This, Crosby said, was prompted by massive crop losses resulting from 2017 and 2018 weather events.
“That made us realize that we needed help in Washington relative to crop insurance, disaster programs and all things political,” Crosby said. “We had to re-establish ourself with a framework and a set of goals that would carry our industry.”
The GBE followed some of the structure used by the Florida Strawberry Growers Association and used Georgia attorneys to develop its by-laws to ensure compliance at the state and federal levels.
For the group to be successful, a high level of participation is needed among Georgia blueberry growers.
“The more growers we have, the more efficient we will be and it will be more beneficial to our industry,” Crosby said.
Retired UGA Extension agent Ann Wildes, who operates the Blueberry Barn in Alma, is handling GBE operations. For more information on the group or to join, contact Wildes at email@example.com or at 912-288-0705.