Production Costs and Techniques for Blueberry Establishment in Eastern Kentucky
Establishment cost tracking and observation was continued for this blueberry plot in 2005. A 20-grid soil sample was taken in Fall 2005 to determine soil fertility differences. Establishment cost estimates were also completed for use in final reporting activities.
Three primary objectives were attained in 2005. These were: 1) Completion of the project’s production practices and observations; 2) Evaluation of any effects differing mulch types might have had on soil pH and fertility over the first two years; and 3) Publication of estimated establishment costs using sustainable techniques for a 1/3-acre blueberry planting in Eastern Kentucky.
Production practices for this project were completed by October, 2005. Total establishment costs (fixed and variable) were estimated at $2630 for this sustainable system. This was $400 greater than a comparable conventional system, the cost difference occurring from significantly more labor time and greater costs for bagged organic fertilizer.
No significant difference was observed in soil tests between the two mulch types used, hardwood sawdust and pine shavings. Year 2 could be too early to tell. Since there was no observed difference in weed prevention between the two mulches, producers are encouraged to weigh potential costs (effects on soil fertility and pH) with benefits (proximity and cost) when determining what kind of wood by-product to use for mulch.
This plot was in about the worst possible site, resulting in a higher than expected plant mortality. The producer has a sound marketing plan for this site and plans to replant and renovate this plot to include the full 216 plants. Blueberries from this plot will be used in value-added products for sale at farmers’ market, resulting in a per-pint price of 5 to 7 times the fresh blueberry price in this region.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This project contributes real-life establishment cost estimates for sustainable blueberry production in Kentucky. These data were reported to over 70 county extension agents in Fall 2005, with further information being requested by a potential producer before the completion of the research report. Results of this research will be published in the state Fruit and Vegetable Research Report, presented at statewide meetings in January, and available for use immediately.
The importance of managing production risk through a proper marketing plan was demonstrated in this project. The producer incurred considerable risk by planting on a marginal site; yet a plan to add significant value to any blueberries harvested in 2006 reduced risk of greater financial payback periods. Establishment of any crop, whether by sustainable or conventional means, should not be completed without a marketing plan in place.