Busy Bumblebees Help to Produce a Bumper British Blueberry Crop in 2023

Busy Bumblebees Ensured a Bumper British Blueberry Crop Despite the Rain

British Berry Growers has announced the start of the blueberry season, with peak production now underway. Although the wettest July in more than a decade was a major concern for the growers, pollination plans have helped to create a robust crop this year, thanks in no small part to sterling efforts by the bumblebees.

The wettest July since 2009 and the sixth wettest July ever[1] was a huge concern for UK berry growers, as blueberries are particularly sensitive to overly wet conditions. However, agronomists are delighted with how the crop has grown and stood up to the unseasonably wet weather – and they say that this is largely thanks to bumblebees.

The British berry industry is now worth £1.7 billion in retail sales year-round[2]. It is estimated to contribute £3.18 billion to the UK economy in the next five years [3], and to continue to grow; the industry needs to evolve its techniques and practices constantly.

Blueberry flowers prefer a special pollination mechanism known as ‘buzz pollination’, and bumblebees are exceptionally skilled at this technique, which involves the bee vibrating the flower to dislodge the pollen. This method ensures efficient pollen transfer and fertilisation of the flower, resulting in a higher fruit set and better quality.

Bumblebee-pollinated blueberry plants also result in more tiny seeds inside the berry. This tends to produce a bigger, firmer fruit – which can indicate higher fruit quality and greater weather resilience.

This year, British blueberry growers have employed particularly robust bumblebee pollination schemes – with one major grower bringing in over 3,000 bumblebee hives. The result of this is a crop that can better stand up to the unseasonal summer weather.

Each week, blueberry growers do a weekly crop walk to ensure there are enough bumblebees across their farms – before making plans to bring in further hives if needed. Growers also collaborate with local beekeepers to bring honeybee hives onto their farms to boost pollination.

Many growers are also enhancing the number of other pollinators on their farms. They are planting wildflowers adjacent to crops to encourage a diverse range of pollinators which helps biodiversity and the blueberries.

A wooden spoon scooping up some of the berries

The careful work of UK growers and help from the bees has ensured an excellent British blueberry harvest this year, with peak production underway now.[4]

Agronomists are reporting sweeter and larger blueberries with better varieties, and the cool summer weather has played a role in this. Cooler weather has seen the fruit ripen slowly, typically allowing more time for sugars to accumulate to create that sweet taste.

Blueberries have quickly become a staple in British shopping baskets, gaining substantial popularity in the past two decades. UK production levels have risen significantly as more shoppers become aware of the strong health benefits of blueberries and are keen to reduce their food miles by buying home-grown fresh produce.

Often called a superfood, blueberries contain antioxidants which boost heart health and decrease risk factors for heart disease. They may also help brain function and boost memory, and studies show that they can aid in muscle recovery following exercise.[5]

Blueberries are also ideal in sweet and savoury recipes and are delicious, both raw and cooked. Research continuously proves their health benefits, and they are the perfect snack food for children returning to school.

The berry industry in Britain is big business, with the year-round retail sales of berries standing at an all-time high of £1.7 billion.[6] The berry industry is estimated to contribute £3.18 billion to the British economy in the next five years.[7]

Berries remain a staple for British shoppers—fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries) continue to be the most popular fruit item in shoppers’ baskets, with the largest market share (28%) of all fruit sold in the UK.[8]

Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, the industry body that represents 95 per cent of berries supplied to UK supermarkets, said, “British berry growers have demonstrated remarkable innovation in using pollination plans to create a robust blueberry crop this season that has withstood the unseasonable July weather.

“They have managed to grow a good and sweet-tasting crop. The contribution of bumblebees to our farms has not only strengthened this year’s harvest but also highlighted the connection between bountiful crops and a thriving ecosystem.”

“We’re thrilled to witness the success of this year’s blueberry crop driven by skilled growers across the country. Only a few decades ago, at this time of year, most blueberries on supermarket shelves were imported; that’s no longer the case. It underscores the need to support British growers for the work they do to boost the British economy and the nation’s health.

“As consumers gain awareness of the varied health benefits of blueberries, we are highlighting the importance of getting fresh berries in your diet through our Nature’s Vitamin campaign. Popping supplements cannot replace the goodness you get from eating fresh, home-grown food.”

Blueberry health facts:[9]

  • High in antioxidants, helping to protect your cells from damage.
  • Help reduce the build-up of harmful cholesterol.
  • Great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, and manganese.
  • Contain dietary fibre, which helps your digestive system function.
  • They may help to lower blood pressure and maintain good cardiovascular health.

Honeyed Berry Oat Pots on a tray ready to be eaten

There is a range of over 60 sweet and savoury blueberry recipes available to try on the Love Fresh Berries website at www.lovefreshberries.com/recipes.


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