Florida Drives the Early Domestic Blueberry Market
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
Florida’s commercial blueberry production has grown significantly in the past two decades, and the state now ranks in the top 10 of blueberry-producing states in the U.S. Approximately 22 million pounds of blueberries were produced in Florida last year. There are more than 900 blueberry farms throughout Florida, generating about $295 million in economic impact annually and supporting at least 2,500 jobs. Another $7 million is estimated to go to direct business taxes for the state, and this does not include income taxes.
UF/IFAS Blueberry Breeding Program
The success of this more recent addition to Florida’s agricultural market is due in large part to the researchers at the UF/IFAS. Since the 1950s, UF/IFAS scientists have been breeding blueberries that not only thrive in Florida but also taste great while being disease- and pest-resistant. In 2020, UF/IFAS released Sentinel, the latest cultivar designed to flourish in Florida. This new variety of blueberry bears bountiful yields for growers and is popular with consumers.
Sentinel is a southern highbush cultivar that is particularly well suited for northern and central Florida. It is a vigorous grower with a high yield and no known disease issues. Southern highbush blueberries tend to be the most common throughout Florida. They were originally developed in the 1970s by researchers at the University of Florida crossing northern highbush varieties with various wild blueberry species native to Florida. Other southern highbush cultivars developed by UF/IFAS prior to Sentinel include Optimus, Arcadia, Colossus, and Magnus.
Rabbiteye blueberries are what is primarily grown in the northern parts of Florida and in Georgia. Though blueberries are cultivated throughout the whole state of Florida, most commercial blueberry production is concentrated in Central Florida. Southern highbush berries ripen earlier than rabbiteye varieties, even when grown in the same locations, making the southern highbush cultivars more profitable for growers.
Florida’s temperate climate offers a distinct advantage over other states: Florida berries are typically the first to reach the domestic market every spring. Florida’s harvest time frame of March through early May coincides with the window when prices are usually the highest.