Looking Back at This Year’s Blueberry Harvest

In keeping with the theme of this month’s issue of Central Florida Ag News, the Blueberry Roundup Edition, I thought I would share what I’ve heard about how the just-completed Florida blueberry harvesting season went this past year.

The word I’ve heard most to describe the blueberry season — from the growing season to the harvest season — is “difficult.”

This said, every cloud has a silver lining, and the good news for Florida blueberry growers is that the commodity pricing, although much lower than in years past, stayed favorable enough long enough to allow a lot of growers to get most of their fruit off the bushes and into the marketplace before the market window expired.

In the not-so-good news column, I’ve heard that some blueberry farms experienced pollination issues — problems that affected total farm production volumes. I’ve also learned that blueberries imported from Mexico created pricing pressures that drove down prices during the peak time for selling Florida blueberries. There was also Irma. Last year, when Irma hit our state, the heavy winds blew leaves off the blueberry bushes at many Florida farms. At the time, we didn’t really know fully how that would affect the harvest season. As we look back on it now, Irma had a dramatic negative influence on the volume of fruit our Florida blueberry farms produced. The plants went into overdrive on replacing leaves and not so much on putting on a good crop of blueberries.  

Hurricanes come and go, but on the issue of blueberry plant pollination, bees are key. It’s a fascinating topic. On the Internet, from The Integrated Crop Pollination (ICP) Project [icpbees.org/], you can find a fact sheet that explains the role honey bees and wild bees play in blueberry production — and bringing to so many people the Florida blueberries they’ve come to love. According to the fact sheet:

“Blueberries need to be cross-pollinated with another cultivar of the same species … in order to produce fruit. Cross-pollination allows for better fruit set, berry size, and earlier ripening. Most growers bring in managed European honey bee hives or commercial bumble bees for pollination. Several types of wild bees are also effective and abundant pollinators of Florida blueberries.”

Check out the fact sheet for yourself. It’ll be interesting reading while you enjoy a cup of delicious and nutritious blueberries — perhaps, still, even some from a farm right here in Florida.

This column is sponsored by Labor Solutions.

BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing agency with five locations in Polk, Hillsborough, and DeSoto counties. You can visit his Agritourism/Ranching operation at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher, citrus grower, and former member of the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges, concerns, and importance of today’s farmer. Together we can Keep Florida Growing!

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