Oregon is the world leader in blueberry production. As an organization that lives and breathes agriculture in Prineville, Oregon, it’s important for us to take an interest in what’s growing in our own backyard. And that’s blueberries. That’s why we wanted to take a moment to talk about the history of the blueberry market including the ins and outs of the Oregon berry packing industry.
Here’s a Brief History of the Blueberry Market
Blueberry Beginnings in Oregon
In 1885, the historian Herbert Lang once said, “There is no country in the known world where wild berries are so common as in Oregon.” More than 100 years later, that fact remains true to this day. The Pacific Northwest provides the perfect conditions for wild blueberries to thrive. The climate, precipitation, temperature, and slightly acidic soils ideally suit blueberries and their native ancestors, huckleberries.
It is for this reason that Oregon is one of the top five blueberry producers in the country. Oregon is fifth in the nation for blueberry acreage and third in the nation for blueberry production. And all of that started in a land that is home to several species of wild blueberries. Cultivated wild for hundreds of years, the huckleberry grew in red, blue, or black varietals. In North America, the blue huckleberries became known as blueberries.
Native American peoples who lived in the Pacific Northwest collected blueberries for food and medicinal purposes. They used blueberries to treat pain, heal ailments, and eradicate infections. To this day blueberries are known for their superfood properties. The berry is high in antioxidants and known to be beneficial for the heart.
The Start of the Oregon Berry Packing Industry
Many say that the main difference between huckleberries and blueberries is their harvesting technique. Traditionally, huckleberries still grow wild throughout the state of Oregon. Practically, blueberries are planted and harvested for distribution throughout the country (and beyond). Because of the fertile soil and wet climate, many Oregon berry packing industries have set up shop in the Willamette Valley.
One of those producers is Oregon Berry Packing Inc. in Hillsboro. In 1948 the Malensky family planted berries in Oregon for wholesale distribution. Their dream was to make Oregon berries available nationwide while keeping them as fresh as possible using their signature “field to market” distribution techniques. Two generations of the Malensky family continue to run the business today.
In 1992, the Malensky’s planted their first blueberry field, and they have since become renowned for their bold flavor profile and plump, juicy mouthfeel. They now ship fresh and frozen blueberries across the country and have become the premier source of fresh blueberries to Japan.
Where the Oregon Berry Packing Industry is Headed
Though the Oregon climate provides the perfect backdrop for the Oregon berry packing industry, many blueberry producers are quick to add developing technologies to their processes. Controlled atmosphere and rapid cooling systems keep berries as fresh as possible from picking to tasting.
Metal detectors have become commonplace as a method for ensuring metal particles don’t make it into the fruit. Not to mention, many berry production companies use lot codes on shipping containers to ensure traceability. They even put security measures into place so fields and production facilities are safe from contamination. All throughout the process, these berry packing producers look to the future of blueberry production with an eager eye.
BTL Liners loves to help. Headquartered in Prineville, Oregon we provide geomembrane agricultural liners, tarps, and covers for blueberry growing and production—especially those growing blueberries in our own backyard. Contact us for more information.