State Helping Blueberry Farmers' Business Grow - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

06/22/04

State Helping Blueberry Farmers' Business Grow

Selling Mississippi blueberries is getting more than a little attention. On Monday, WLOX News told you about a deal to put the homegrown berries in WalMart stores around the south. Tuesday, the head of the state Agriculture Department visited a blueberry farm in Pearl River County to promote other ways the state is helping the blueberry business grow.

Sweet, fresh blueberries aren't all that attracts people to "Blue Tara." Customers enjoy the farm's old time feel, but to stay in business, owners say they have to stay on top of farming technology.

Mandy McCormick says farmers like herself are a dying breed. "So we need to keep up with the latest things going on."

Agricultural Commissioner Lester Spell loves to help Mississippi farmers improve how they're growing and harvesting their crops. Spell says the state has invested in technology that will allow blueberry processors to double their output.

"We actually have sorting machines and these machines are set so they detect certain colors and depths of colors," said Spell. "They can actually sort out the blueberries as they come down the processing line."

Although there are more than 300 of them across the state, commercial blueberry farmers feel they haven't always been given the same recognition as other types of farming.

"People think about these as coming from Maine and from Michigan. They don't recognize that they come from here," farmer Amy Phelps said. "Having the state support the growers and having the media say that we're out there brings the public closer to getting a healthy product."

Through a deal with Wal-Mart, farmers will be able to tap into major southern markets, but they say they're still fighting to get into the small stores.

"I think local grocery stores and local owners need to help the farmers out and help themselves out by carrying local farm goods."

Blueberries are a $20 million industry in the state. Mississippi's berry season runs from late May until early July.

by Danielle Thomas

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