(Aug. 4) Heat in the West and rain in the Midwest caused relatively minor blueberry production hitches in late July.

But shippers expect markets to remain firm as volumes rise in Michigan and Oregon shippers prepare to switch to controlled-atmosphere product.

A widespread heat wave hit Oregon and Washington July 22-23, pushing temperatures up to 105 degrees in some areas and causing a delayed reaction as shippers realized the berries were damaged a few days later, said Jerald Downs, marketing and business development manager for Townsend Farms, Fairview, Ore.

“The fruit would come in from the fields looking great, but you’d touch it, and it would be soft,” Downs said. “You’d get six loads in from the field but maybe only one could go to the fresh market, and the rest would go to the canners. People were still taking orders all the way until Saturday (July 24), but when the fruit came in, they couldn’t sell it.”

Michigan is shipping mostly the bluecrop variety, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 12 1-pint cups at $13-14 on Aug. 2, compared to $12 a year ago.

New Jersey’s crop is winding down, and the USDA’s last f.o.b. report on July 30 had late-season elliots at $12.25 for 12 1-pint cups. A year ago, the prices were $10-12. Early August prices in Oregon were $13-13.50, as were blueberries from British Columbia crossing through northwest Washington.

Oregon’s blackberry volumes this season will also drop because harvesters were forced to send more fruit to processors for a five- to six-day span because of the same weather, Downs said.

In Michigan, the USDA reported some production slowdowns because of late July rains, but shippers in South Haven and Holland said rain didn’t affect harvest.

In Grand Haven, growers saw sporadic halts, for a half or full day around July 28, said Ken Reenders, co-owner of Reenders Blueberry Farms.

“We were back in the fields the next day,” he said. “We’ve had real high demand and prices are real strong. We’ll ship strong into Labor Day.”

Rain fell again on Aug. 2, Reenders said, but the area could actually use a few inches of rain, despite a wet spring.

“We’re selling everything we’re picking,” said Carol Bowerman, owner of Bowerman Blueberries Ltd., Holland. Although prices were up the first week of August over last year according to the USDA, Bowerman said $14 markets for 12 one-pint cups were common last year.

Reenders and Tony Marr, general manager of Adkin Blue Ribbon Packing Co., South Haven, credited the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council for keeping demand steady through the season.

In particular, the shippers cited the health claims touted by the council.