While many things in the world of agriculture have changed over the past year, several of the issues that have arisen while dealing with labor needs have remained the same. This is especially true for the Florida blueberry industry. So, let’s examine some of the crucial topics and how they have evolved over the past year.
Last year, the price of blueberries dropped before all of the berries were off the bush. This year, the price remained good, but the available labor to harvest the berries moved north for picking season in Georgia and the Carolinas. This resulted in a diminished workforce at the end of the harvest season for many growers in Central Florida. Consequently, some farms were left with berries in the fields, which is something a grower never wants to see.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons for this sequence of events is a decreased pool of labor compared to years past. It will be very important to keep a weather eye on any labor legislation presented in Florida during the upcoming legislative season.
One of the great things about being a Floridian is that we are not ones to sit idly by and leave our fates to politics. Innovation and invention are always on the minds of the men and women at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
One of the projects they are working on is to improve varieties suitable for mechanical harvesting for blueberries. Right now, harvesting with machines on established varieties leaves a high percentage of the fruit not suitable for produce stands in the volumes necessary to be sustained. However, if new hybrid varieties suitable to our Florida weather can be developed that are more suitable for machine harvesting, it may prove to be a solution to the labor dilemmas the blueberry industry overall has experienced.
Keeping a watchful eye on labor legislation is of the utmost importance for sustaining Florida’s number one economic engine — agriculture. In the long run, innovations such as those being worked on by the UF/IFAS may well prove to be a saving grace for the blueberry industry in our state. Stay tuned to future editions of Central Florida Ag News for continued developments on these and many other issues that are important to our state and to you.
column by Nelson Kirkland
photo by Ron O’Connor, Farm Credit
Nelson Kirkland is publisher of Central Florida Ag News. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.