Georgia in a blueberries’ crossover moment as state-financed cold storage program begins

Blueberries from Georgia

Following a phenomenal rise in blueberry production in Georgia, the government is co-financing cold storage facilities for farmers. 

The Rural Development Agency (RDA)’s website put up a notice on September 4, 2023 to encourage producers to join the program. The statement tags the program as the “State Co-financing Program of Refrigerated Storage facilities for Berry Crops of Agricultural Cooperatives.” 

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia will coordinate with RDA to launch the funding strategy.

The Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Otar Shamugia, compared the financing model with the existing “Finance the Future” project. Under the latter program, Georgia has been able to cultivate 2,500 hectares of the crop.  

The highly perishable nature of blueberries is one of the challenges that farmers face in Guria, the capital Tibilisi, Samegrelo and Laituri, and most of the western blueberry-growing regions. This is why the government is not only supporting these areas by expanding acreage but launching cold facilities on farms.

Berries perish within a brief period of harvesting under room temperature conditions. However, they can stay fresh for up to two weeks under aseptic refrigeration. 

The Georgian government states that berries’ propagation will continue under organic conditions in orchards. Agro-technology will only enter into the equation during the “storaging of the harvest.”

To qualify for this scheme, producers of blueberries will have to join cooperatives, under which co-financing will happen.

This comes at a time when the export value is rising by leaps and bounds. Between January and July, 2023, Georgia shipped 118% more blueberries than it did in the first half of 2022. The export value so far is $18 million, and is already far above the entire exported crop of 2022

In 2022, the country exported blueberries and cranberries valued $8.21 million. The figure was a major improvement by 47.4% above that of 2021, which stood at $5.57 million. 

The export quantity of Georgia’s blueberries is relatively modest as the production potential is still in the developing stage. In terms of output, 2022 figures were the highest in the previous five years and outstripped the 2018 exports by over 1173%. While the export figures were just 107 metric tonnes in 2018, by the end of 2022 the quantity had risen to 1,363 metric tonnes. 

By investing in cold storage, Georgia will be taking a share of a growing global crop refrigeration industry that was worth $9.5 billion in 2022. Projections put its growth to reach $19.7 billion by the year 2030.