sponsored by FARM CREDIT OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
by ERIKA ALDRICH
It’s that time of year where you’ll see them in grocery stores, side-of-the-road produce stalls, and farmer’s markets: one of America’s favorite berries, the Florida blueberry. These little blue dynamos pack a punch when it comes to flavor and nutrition. While Florida is not the state with the largest blueberry production in the country, the Sunshine State’s window for harvesting blueberries has traditionally been right between blueberry production from Mexico and South America and those grown in the rest of the country. Explore the ins and outs of the Florida blueberry industry.
The Health Benefits of Blueberries
The blueberry is classified as a “superfood” because it’s jam-packed with vitamins and minerals. The most important healthful compounds found in blueberries are antioxidants, specifically anthocyanins. Blueberries derive their blue color from anthocyanins, but more importantly, the high amount of anthocyanins found in blueberries make them one of the healthiest fruits available.
Research has shown that blueberries fight cancer, have anti-aging and memory-boosting properties, reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke through reducing bad cholesterol, fight infection and improve eyesight. There are few foods as good for you as blueberries!
Blueberries Grown in Florida
Commercial blueberry growers generally harvest their blueberries from late March to mid-April, and then growers generally open their blueberry fields as u-pick operations. However, harvest dates can vary depending upon the weather. Blueberry plants require a certain amount of chill hours—or hours of cold weather—to properly form fruit. While several low-chill varieties have been created for Florida growers, an overly warm winter can affect blueberry harvests. Similarly, late winter and early spring freezes also can negatively affect the production of Florida blueberries.
According to UF/IFAS Extension, commercial Florida blueberries are grown in three major areas in Florida: North Central Florida, Central Florida, and South Central Florida. Approximately 40 percent of Florida’s commercial blueberry acreage is located in North Central Florida, such as Alachua, Marion, Putnam, Sumter, and Lake counties. Central Florida blueberry production occurs in Polk, Orange, Pasco, Hernando, and Hillsborough counties, and the region features about 30 percent of the total commercial blueberry acreage in Florida. Lastly, South Central Florida—encompassing Highlands, Hardee, Desoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties—accounts for about 25 percent of Florida’s commercial blueberry acreage. UF/IFAS Extension maintains that all of the three major areas in Florida that grow commercial blueberries have seen growth in blueberry acreage in the past few years.
Florida Blueberries by the Numbers
Blueberries are one of the top 10 major fruit and vegetable crops in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics (NASS) maintains in 2018 Florida commercial blueberry growers produced 20.5 million pounds of blueberries, and those blueberries had a utilized production value of $60.4 million.
Subsequently, USDA’s NASS maintains that 24 million pounds of blueberries were produced in the 2019 season for a utilized production value of $62.3 million.
A Word on Florida Blueberries
While Florida blueberries traditionally enjoyed a harvest window when they were the only option in the market, blueberry growers in Mexico have been closing that window, presenting a challenge for Florida blueberry growers.
However, Florida blueberries are shipped at peak ripeness as blueberries will not ripen further once picked. Blueberries shipped from Mexico will be much older and are not nearly as fresh as those from Florida. Check for the “Fresh From Florida” logo when buying blueberries in the grocery store, and only choose those grown in the Sunshine State.