Florida Blueberry Growers Counting on a Comeback

The 2016 Florida blueberry season was certainly one to forget for growers. With a strong El Niño in place, topsy-turvy weather events and a marked lack of chill hours caused problems aplenty in fields across the Sunshine State.

Seeking counsel before the 2017 season kicks into high gear, growers, researchers, industry suppliers, and other stakeholders had one last chance to gather during the Florida Blueberry Growers Association (FBGA) Spring Meeting at Hillsborough County Community College’s Trinkle Center in Plant City.

The single-day short course and trade show is one of two meetings held by the association during the year. Looking through the halls of the tradeshow area and around the educational session room, it was apparent attendance was down quite a bit from the usual turnout. During his welcome speech, FBGA President Dudley Calfee addressed the thin crowd, citing the fall meeting’s nearly two-month delay – thanks to Hurricane Matthew – accounted for the day’s high absenteeism. “Not only did Mother Nature beat us around with low chill hours, but she also gave us a hurricane,” he remarked.

Among last season’s struggles, there was a real problem with under-reporting losses, according to Calfee. “I can’t tell you exactly what we left on the table as far as federal (disaster) grants, but, to say it’s several million dollars would not be an understatement.”

Calfee advised attendees to get to know their local Farm Service Agency agent if they don’t already.

Bacterial Wilt Warning

If Florida blueberry growers didn’t already have enough on their plates, one of the education presentations addressed a new threat: bacterial wilt. Discovered last fall on several farms in Central Florida (now five total), the bacteria (Ralstonia solanacearum) presents itself similar to Xylella and bacterial leaf scorch.

Bacterial wilt symptoms in Florida blueberries
The bacteria Ralstonia solanacearum can survive for years in soil, slowly spreading down and across rows of blueberry leaving large circular patches of dead and dying plants.
Photo by Phil Harmon, UF/IFAS

Jeff Williamson, UF/IFAS Professor, Extension Horticulturist, and moderator of the short course, led the presentation for colleague Dr. Phil Harmon, who is currently working to uncover more about this pathogen. Williamson said the only cultivar this disease has affected so far is ‘Arcadia.’ “If you have a problem (with this disease) on your farm, don’t plant ‘Arcadia.’”

Speaking on recommendations provided by Harmon, Williamson advised those considering planting ‘Arcadia’ to be cautious and aware. “It could be a serious problem depending on how widespread it is,” he said.

Growth Opportunity

What will blueberry production in Florida look like in 2020? This was part of the discussion of a presentation given by Cort Brazelton of Lowell, OR-based Fall Creek Farm & Nursery. Unique to the other talks given during the event, Brazelton joined in via video conference.

According to Brazelton, the blueberry industry is experiencing “incredible growth” worldwide. However, when it compares to the scale of strawberries, the “little blue dynamos” have a long way to go.

Scanning ahead to 2020, Brazelton predicts Florida’s market window ramping up earlier (February and early March) thanks to advances in production practices and protected culture. This will be necessary to keep up with increasing competition.
To stay competitive in a global market, Brazelton said if he was a Florida grower, he’d make sure to

  • Leverage strengths (buy local movement)
  • Maximize yields
  • Concentrate on quality
  • Be efficient (growing, packing, marketing)
  • Invest in innovation (planting, protection, and harvesting)

“You’re gonna need to stay ahead of the curve,” he concluded.

Scroll through the photo gallery above for more highlights from the event.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Florida Blueberry Growers Counting on a Comeback

Berries Stories
Alto Straughn receives distinguished alumnus award from UF President Kent Fuchs
May 4, 2017
Florida Farming Pioneer Still Making the Honor Roll
Alto Straughn presented with University of Florida’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. Read More
May 2, 2017
Southeastern Strawberry Growers Advised to Prepare for Disease Pressure
Recent rain is conducive to the main strawberry fruit rot diseases, according to the chief of the Southern Region IPM Center. Read More
April 26, 2017
Tips To Manage Winter-Damaged Blueberries
While low-chill varieties in Southern states may have experienced freeze damage for the second year in a row, giving those plants extra care will help ensure a good start to the 2018 growing season. Read More
The Hill family of Southern Hill Farms in Florida
April 13, 2017
Florida Farming Family Staying on Top of the Blueberry Game
The Hill family of Southern Hill Farms continues to up their efforts to diversify business and stay out ahead of a competitive market. Read More
April 10, 2017
North Carolina Blueberry Crop Still Kicking
Thanks to pruning cuts and a diverse mix of cultivars, the majority of the crop survived a series of March freezes. Read More
Closeup of Florida blueberries
April 6, 2017
Study Shows Bumblebees Can Boost Blueberry Yield Big Time
UF/IFAS researchers find placing hives of the distinct pollinator in the field pumps up output by 70%. Read More
March 30, 2017
Chateau Herbicide SW Now Registered for Use in Citrus, Caneberries
Broad spectrum preemergent herbicide to control broadleaf and grasses. Read More
SWD On Raspberry
March 26, 2017
Outsmarting SWD with Social Media
Entomologist in Kentucky uses social media for pest updates, trap catches. Read More
Freeze protected blueberry bushes in Florida
March 25, 2017
Florida Blueberry Crop Escapes Slap from Late-Season Cold Snap
Freeze protection tactics prove fruitful as local producers look to gain from Georgia’s loss. Read More
Frozen blueberries
March 15, 2017
Arctic Blast Gives Southern Fruit Growers the Chills
Peaches and berries in bloom most at risk from freezing temperatures. Read More
Growers boot up drone technology on the farm
March 3, 2017
Specialty Crops Primed for Precision Agriculture
Employing the latest horticultural technology tools could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new research paper. Read More
March 2, 2017
Pruning Pointers for Dormant Care of Berries
If you haven’t started pruning your berries, it’s time you do. Read More
February 26, 2017
Advantages to Growing Southern Highbush Blueberries
Growers in some regions where temperatures don’t get too low could consider the benefits of Southern highbush varieties. Read More
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry Production
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
2017 Florida Strawberry Picking Challenge winners
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big Winner for Charity
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More