Florida Blueberries catch up with the rest

03/01/2009 02:00:00 AM

“Rabbiteye show great potential for that in our climate in Florida. You could grow these with minimal pesticide use or organically,” he says.

Potential for mechanical harvesting

Lyrene says about half the world’s blueberries are sold as a processed product, and those are frozen and harvested by machine. Of the fresh blueberries in North America, about 20 percent are harvested by machine and the rest by hand. But mechanical harvesting in Florida hasn’t been too popular so far.

“The price of the berries has been so high, growers don’t want to be dropping a fraction of the crop on the ground,” Lyrene says. “But as production increases and value goes down, I think we will move to machine more and more.”

With that change, though, comes a major increase in cost. Mechanical harvesting requires redesigning a fairly large aspect of the production system, including using different varieties, pruning methods and more, he says.

“Our bushes are not bread for mechanical harvesting,” Mixon says. “We are two decade old industry, which is very young. How will these current varieties handle the rigors of mechanical harvesting, as well as the long growing season we have down here and disease control? Most of our current varieties are not nearly of the firmness that a normal mechanical harvested berry would have.”

Mixon says there also are other reasons why mechanical harvesting will take a while to become widely used: most of the state’s varieties don’t yield high enough volumes to afford losing a portion of the crop. He also says as long as growers have hand labor available, why not use it.

“One day it will happen I think, but we will see where it will take us,” Mixon says.

Watch a virtual field day about blueberries at http://virtualfieldday.ifas.ufl.edu/suwanneevalley/orchard/blueberries.shtml

Spring freezes

Overhead drip irrigation systems came in handy this winter when Florida growers faced freezing temperatures that threatened the life and their southern highbush blueberry plants and the fruit the plants had set.

Dr. Paul Lyrene, professor of horticultural sciences with the University of Florida, Gainesville, says growers were trying to save their plants the Feb. 3, 4 and 5 when temperatures around 19 F hit Alachua County. He says where the wind stayed around 5 miles per hour, the temperatures stayed around 24 F.

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