New genetic finding could pave the way for fall blueberries in Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida-grown blueberries typically aren't found in the supermarket in the fall. But that may change thanks to researchers at the University of Florida. This is good news for consumers and producers, who could extend their market window by several months.
In the Sunshine State, fruit typically grows and is harvested from February to May. That means that normally, in the fall, you can only buy imported blueberries.
UF/IFAS researchers may have found the right genes to develop Florida-grown blueberries in what is typically considered out of season. In a recently published study, scientists evaluated 536 varieties of Southern Highbush Blueberry on two commercial farms in Waldo, northeast of Gainesville, during fall 2019 and fall 2021.
“Blueberries are a short-day plant, meaning the floral organs form when the days are short in the fall and then bloom in the spring,” said Patricio Muñoz, blueberry breeder and UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences. . “But we always look at some varieties that will produce in the fall, which means they have the ability to develop flowers when the days are long. Basically, these are insensitive to the length of the day. “So, we developed a study to determine if we could promote profitable fall production in Florida.”
The scientists confirmed their hypothesis. “Our results tell us that there is a genetic mechanism that operates in these out-of-season plants that is different from conventional plants with traditional spring flowering,” said Mariana Neves da Silva, who led the study as part of her doctoral thesis under the supervision title of Muñoz in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences .
Florida blueberries grow abundantly in counties such as Alachua, Hardee, Hernando, Manatee, Orange, Polk and Putnam. So how do the current study's findings help Florida blueberry growers?
“In the fall, blueberries are imported to the United States and prices can be high due to the lack of domestic production,” says Neves da Silva. “Producing blueberries in the fall could help Florida growers hit that high price market window by providing fresh blueberries. “More research is required to improve that trait and also to gather more data on performance and handling.”
In the future, horticultural scientists hope to develop cultivars and management practices. “We are working with Dr. Gerardo Núñez, assistant professor in horticultural sciences, to develop recommended management for these varieties,” Muñoz said.