By Faith PeppersUniversity of Georgia A late spring freeze followed by heavy rains were a blessing for some Georgia blueberry growers. But they brought more hard work to others, according to University of Georgia experts.The heavy rains delayed harvest of the southeast Georgia crop, causing some early concerns about highbush berry quality. “We had to work harder to make grade due to the heavy rains this spring, but it’s turning out to be good year for rabbiteye growers,” said UGA Cooperative Extension blueberry agent Danny Stanaland.“We grow two blueberry crops in Georgia – highbush and rabbiteye,” Stanaland went on to explain. The highbush crop in some areas of southeast Georgia, which is the state’s major commercial production area, “was hit hard by the late freeze and will produce only about 35 to 50 percent of the crop.” Robust rabbiteye cropFortunately, blueberry fans all over Georgia can expect a bumper crop from the rabbiteye variety. “It will be the largest crop of rabbiteye blueberries we’ve had in several years,” Stanaland said. That’s especially good news for Georgia’s 300 blueberry growers. The majority of the crop is rabbiteye variety, and about 10 percent of the total crop is highbush variety. “The highbush variety blooms and fruits early, making it more susceptible to the low temperatures and rain,” Stanaland said. “But, May 20 we finished harvesting highbush. That crop is gone.” Growers are now harvesting rabbiteye berries in three phases. “The early rabbiteye berries were wet and had some grading issues because it required more selective picking to get the good berries,” he said. “Now that it’s dry again, it’s much easier to harvest and grade, and fruit quality is very positive. We have the heaviest rabbiteye fruit set we’ve had in years. So, while we were short on highbush berries, we are going to be long on rabbiteye.”Pick-your-own timeIn the northern half of the state, where most blueberry operations are pick-your-own, growers are reporting larger-than-normal berries and an abundant crop, just in time for many markets to open this weekend. In 2008, Georgia blueberry growers harvested more than 14,000 acres of blueberries with an off-the-farm value of close to $61 million dollars, slightly above the five-year average. This year, growers expect to harvest between 12,000 and 14,000 acres, but that figure could surge as high as 15,000 to 20,000 acres, according to Stanaland and county Extension agent reports. About 75 percent of those acres are in southeast Georgia. Prices are holding steady in spite of the abundance of available fruit this year, which usually drives prices down. Growers are getting about $14 per flat — or $1.40 per pound — for fresh berries, only a shade lower than last year’s price.
With a pair of convincing wins over St. Cloud State this weekend, head coach Mark Johnson and his top-ranked Wisconsin women’s hockey team finished the first half of their season virtually unblemished. The 18-0-2 Badgers can now take a few weeks off, relax and prepare for a daunting second half of the season that includes tough away series at top-five rivals Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth.St. Cloud came to the Kohl Center ranked third in the WCHA with plenty of momentum courtesy of a five-game winning streak. The Badgers, however, were sporting an 18-game unbeaten streak that included eight wins over top 10 opponents.Wisconsin’s 7-0 and 6-2 wins over the Huskies finalized a near-perfect first half of the season, and gave Wisconsin some breathing room atop the rankings of a very competitive WCHA.Statistically, the Badgers are leading the nation in nearly every offensive and defensive category. Wisconsin is allowing a slight 0.94 goals a contest while scoring 5.26 goals a game, leading the nation in both categories.Individually, Wisconsin has plenty of representation in the national leaderboard. Six Badgers rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring. Sophomore Hilary Knight leads the nation in points, with 22 goals and 17 assists. Senior captain Erika Lawler is second nationally in points, with 32, and first in assists with 23. Also in the top 20 nationally for points are freshman Brooke Ammerman (30), junior Meghan Duggan (28), junior Jasmine Giles (24) and senior Angie Keseley (23).Senior goaltender Jessie Vetter leads the nation with an impressive 0.952 save percentage. Vetter also leads all net-minders with 17 wins and a slim 0.827 goals against average.Johnson noted how valuable Vetter has been to the team’s success, adding that strong defensive play has also helped limit opposing offenses.“She has been a stonewall back there,” Johnson said following Wisconsin’s 6-2 win on Saturday. “The people in front of her are playing well, they are playing very responsible within our own end. If we have breakdowns or the other team creates opportunities, [Vetter] has been very comfortable and she can make the saves. If we have kids that are committed to playing hard in their own end, it makes it very difficult for the other team to score goals.”The Badgers have been powered by a well-blended mix of productive freshman and veterans who dedicated themselves following last spring’s crushing loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the national championship. Johnson likes where his team is at this juncture of the season, but notes that there still is plenty of work to be done.“We are in good position, but we have 20 games still when we come back,” Lawler said. “I would not have predicted us being in this position in September. You have to complement the players, and I did after the game. They committed themselves last spring, they trained hard over the summer, put themselves in a position to get a good start and they have kept the momentum building, and building.”Also touching on the fruits of the team’s efforts was Lawler.“It is a tremendous thing that we have the best record in program history,” Lawler said. “I think we are all very proud of ourselves, because we worked for it, and it definitely did not come easy. ”Lawler, the Badgers’ pint-sized senior captain and emotional leader, sees her team as one that enjoys playing together and has great cohesion on all fronts.“A huge contribution to how successful we have been is how well we get along on and off the ice,” Lawler said. “Everyone seems to have a really good work ethic. We have found good chemistry on all four lines. I could go down the line with all my teammates and talk about how each is contributing to our success, whether they play a lot or not. Everyone is contributing in some way or another. ”