By Clint Thompson
A devastating hailstorm on Thursday, April 23 wiped out production for one of the largest blueberry farming operations in the Southeast, says blueberry farmer Phillip Mixon. The former owner of Mixon Farms, who now serves as manager, reflects on what might have been with this year’s crop.
“We had the best crop we had since about 2016,” Mixon said. ““We deal with rain. Some of them will split and you have to wait a few days and let them heal up and go back to picking. With hail, it devastates them.”
Mixon’s farm has about 850 acres. Approximately 600 would have been harvested. The storm knocked a bunch of blueberries off. What was left on the bush was bruised really bad. They aren’t marketable.
“It wiped ours out. It’s a total loss. It’s not good,” Mixon said. “We had golf ball size hail. It didn’t last but about 30 seconds, but it just totally wiped them out.”
Mixon estimated he lost about 5 million pounds.
It’s been a challenging spring for Mixon. First, the blueberry farmer said having enough labor was a problem when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, he must find work for his workers. He’s reached out to his farming brethren.
“You’ve got to guarantee them three-quarters of the contract. You’ve got to pay them whether you’ve got something or not,” Mixon said. “That sucks because I couldn’t help the hailstorm. If not been for that, I’d have plenty of work. It’s a bad deal all the way around.
“We just start over and hope for the best next year. We started (Wednesday) hedging our blueberries down. We’re just going to have to tend to them and hope for next year and collect what little bit of insurance there is.”
The only saving grace for Mixon was that this didn’t happen a year or two sooner. He sold the farm to an investment group, who kept him working as manager. Still, it’s a hard pill to swallow to see a year’s production lost.
“It’s disheartening,” Mixon said. “I still treat it just like it’s mine even if somebody else has got it.”
For more information about how the blueberry market is faring, see VSCNews story.