The Florida Blueberry Growers Association (FBGA) was created in the 1970s with the purpose of promoting the blueberry industry in Florida. Membership in the association has followed the blueberry acreage in Florida, from only a handful of members in the ’70s to a current membership exceeding 350. There were 1,000 acres of blueberries in Florida in 1993. And today, there are more than 4,000 acres.
Florida produced approximately 13 million pounds of fresh blueberries in the 2010 season. All Florida production has been for the fresh market but as the industry continues to grow more berries are being sent for processing. Nationally, more than 350 million pounds of blueberries are produced and roughly 250 million pounds of that is for fresh consumption. The value of the 2009 Florida crop was $72 million. Continued research in the many health benefits from blueberries has caused per capita consumption of blueberries to increase 400% in the last 10 years.
A Resourceful Group
If you look at blueberry growing regions around the world, you will find Florida growers have many challenges other regions do not. Sandy soils low in nutrients and organic matter are not the natural habitat of blueberries. Warm winters are just as much a problem for blueberry growers as cold ones. Amending the soil with pine bark is a common practice in Florida and increases establishment costs considerably. An initial establishment cost exceeding $20,000 per acre is not uncommon in Florida.
Going forward, the Florida blueberry industry continues to take on the many challenges any agricultural endeavor faces. A shrinking market, increased supply, and global competition are just a few. The FBGA continues to mature with the industry. We are always looking for better ways to serve the growing needs of the Florida blueberry farmer. “The Blueberry News” is the official publication of the FBGA and is published three times per year. It contains articles written by University of Florida experts and features articles specific to growing blueberries in Florida.
In addition to the newsletter, the FBGA has two field days each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. These events attract more than 350 individuals. Each meeting consists of speakers from the University of Florida and other professionals sharing their expertise in blueberry culture. The meetings feature a tradeshow giving growers an opportunity to find out firsthand the many products available to them to increase their production and solve the many problems they face.
Working Toward A Common Goal
The association provides research funding to the University of Florida for several projects. They include mechanical harvesting, disease management, insect control, and water management. We are working with the Florida Department of Agriculture on the first set of best management practices (BMPs) pertaining specifically to specialty crops of which blueberries are one. BMPs establish guidelines for growers. The guidelines ensure growers comply with federal law as well as optimize water usage and nutrient management. The final version will be published before the end of the year. The association also continues to bring growers together with water management districts for cost share programs in an effort to reduce aquifer water consumption.
The FBGA will continue to educate and work with Florida growers to maximize returns and keep the Florida blueberry industry as healthy as their product.