UF Innovation is Key to Success in Florida’s Booming Blueberry Market
Florida isn't supposed to be a blueberry state, right? This is what many thought prior to a decade or two ago when growing blueberries was just catching on in the Sunshine State. Florida is known for oranges, strawberries, or maybe even tomatoes, but not blueberries. However, acreage dedicated to blueberries has grown 300% or so since then, and 2014 is expected to have produced 25 million pounds of blueberries. That number is up 16% from the 21.5 million pounds in 2013, and is 30% higher than the 19 million in 2012.
Most of the credit for Florida's successful and burgeoning blueberry crop belongs to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Cultural Sciences Plant Innovation Program. Almost 100% of Florida's southern highbush blueberries came from UF-developed cultivars. The innovative breeding research and techniques UF introduced has allowed Florida blueberry growers to stave off several problems associated with soil, disease, water quality, and pollination. The result has been high yields of large, healthy, and delicious blueberries.
Another factor contributing to the blossoming Florida blueberry production is the compatibility of blueberries and machine pickers. Machine picking allows for a much smaller labor force which translates to higher profits and more acreage being dedicated to blueberries. Florida also has the advantage of having the earliest harvest in the US due to their early spring.
Thanks to cultivars developed at UF, other countries have been able to expand their harvest season by exposing the berries to an early ripening process and prolonging the harvest season. With blueberry shipments from South America, we can now have fresh blueberries year-round.
As news of blueberries' health benefits spreads, blueberry consumption continues to rapidly grow. But surveys have shown the main reason people are buying more blueberries is for their sweet delicious flavor.