Sunday, February 9, 2014

Little Known Crop Taking Root in North Carolina: Blueberries, 1946

“Carolina Farm Comment” By F.H. Jeter, Extension Editor, North Carolina State College, Raleigh, as published in the Wilmington Morning Star Feb. 11, 1946.

North Carolina has a little known industry that is proving to be extremely profitable to 40 or more farmers having a part in it. All of us know about the wild huckleberries or Sampson blues of southeastern North Carolina. Few of us know about the fine cultivated blueberries grown in that section, however, and which sold for about 50 cents a pint last season.

North Carolina is developing a blueberry industry which is expanding slowly but surely. At the present time, there are between 900 and 1,000 acres planted to these tame or cultivated blueberries and additional acres will be set as quickly as varieties resilient to disease and of high quality are developed. The 40 farmers, largely in Pender, Duplin, and Sampson counties, who are growing the berries have from 25 to 40 acres each.

The first growers came down from New Jersey and found the climate and soil suitable for the varieties of berries which had been developed in the state. Now, under the guidance of E.B. Morrow, research horticulturist of the Experiment Station, local growers are propagating their own plants and are working with Morrow in making new selections and crosses to start new and more adaptable varieties.

Mr. Morrow says the varieties largely used at the present time are the Cabot, Weymouth, Rancocas, June, Stanley, Rubel, Jersey, Scammell, Concord, and the Dixie.

The Cabot is an early variety and was one of the first planted in that section but it is largely going out now because of being subject to a disease known as the blueberry canker, Morrow says the growers have been making resistant selections from the old variety, however, and that a new resistant strain seems to be on its way. The Rancocas variety is resistant to a virus disease, which the growers call “stunt” because it stunts the growing plants. This Rancocas, therefore, is being used as a stock parent plant in almost all of the breeding work being done.

One of the interesting things happening down there is in selections which Morrow has made of wild varieties gathered in the vicinity of Grandfather’s Mountain in northwestern North Carolina. He is crossing these on a species known as “Rabbiteye,” which is grown in northern Florida and southern Georgia.

The wild variety from our western North Carolina mountains is hardy, the fruit has a good blue color, and a wonderful flavor. In fact, all the fruit grown in our western section has these desirable qualities. Apples grown up there seem to taste better than the insipid stuff that our dealers ship in to our stores from other sections of the country.

Anyway, the “Rabbiteye” variety is, as one would expect, very productive. It grows well in the poor soils of northern Florida and southern Georgia and is vigorous in its vegetative growth. Morrow wants to combine the fine color, high quality and hardiness of our mountain berries with the productivity of the South Georgia kind and get a variety with the desirable qualities of both. He says he is making progress. This new variety should be adapted to a wide range of soil and climate and perhaps more farmers will be able to grow the blueberries when he perfects this new strain.

One of the largest growers of tame blueberries in the state is Harold G. Huntington of Atkinson on the western edge of Pender County. Mr. Huntington has about 100 acres set to the plants although he is now resetting much of his old acreage due to the ravages of disease among some of the older varieties and his adoption of some of the newer varieties now being developed. Blueberry plants are set in rows eight feet wide and four feet apart on the row, making about 1,360 plants to an acre. Under ordinary conditions, the berries produce an average of 200 of the 12-pint crates per acre.

It is not unusual, however, for yields as high as 400 crates an acre to be secured. Before the war, these berries sold for 20 to 25 cents a pint. Figure, therefore, 12 pints to a crate and 400 crates to an acre on 10 acres selling for 50 cents a pint and you have some idea as to the income secured by one grower last year. But this income is not all net profit. The pint cups are wrapped in cellophane, and the berries are carefully graded, and it costs considerable money to start and manage one of the orchards.

Mr. Huntington has an irrigation system which cost him around $10 or $15,000 and this is kept only as an insurance policy against destructive drouths. In the main, however, the growers say that the water table is so near the surface in that section that they do not believe irrigation will ever be needed generally. But in other ways, also it takes lots of capital to start a blueberry farm. Once the plants are set and in production, however, the returns are very satisfactory.

Emmett Morrow is doing much of his research on the farm of Gale Harrison of Ivanhoe. Mr. Harrison is growing a number of blueberry seedlings and selections in cooperation with the fruit scientist and much valuable information is being secured. The owner has about 50 acres of berries in his commercial orchard. 

He is known as a good businessman and a successful grower. He has an up-to-date packing plant which not only gives him a superior product for chipping but also allows him to store any excess or overflow berries that cannot be shipped on the day picked. These are stored overnight and packed the next morning when the heavy dews of that section make it unwise to harvest additional berries so early in the day.


Harrison also uses his pre-cooling plant to cure meat for his neighbors. Last year, the folks in that whole section kept the plant busy curing their meat. In fact, the demand became so heavy that Harrison took a trip up to Lumberton to see J.E. Nance, pioneer freezer locker operator, so that he might learn exactly how to use these freezing plants for successful meat curing. The neighbors say he is doing a good job for them.

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