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New Blueberry Growing Season

How do producers increase income, add to their yearly production and save money for consumers? When it comes to Florida blueberries, some University of Florida researchers believe that developing the right genes could accomplish all those things.


Blueberry season in Florida usually runs from February to May. But results of a new study show that researchers found a way to also grow productive berries in the fall.



Dr. Patricio Munoz, a University of Florida Horticulture Science Department associate professor who specializes in blueberry breeding and genomics, led the research. 


Dr. Patricio Munoz, University of Florida Horticulture Science Department associate professor holding a blueberry
Dr. Patricio Munoz, University of Florida Horticulture Science Department associate professor.

“Off-season flowering in daylength-sensitive plants is an intriguing characteristic that represents an opportunity to expand crop's production timing and regions, and potentially speed up breeding,” the report’s abstract began.


The research focused on the Southern Highbush Blueberry. Here is some background on that variety from the University of Florida research team:



“Efforts to breed new blueberry cultivars that were adapted to Florida’s mild winter climate and would ripen in April and May began in the 1950s, under the direction of Dr. Ralph Sharpe at the University of Florida. By crossing northern highbush cultivars with Vaccinium species found throughout Florida and the southeastern United States, Sharpe developed a new type of blueberry known as the southern highbush. Southern highbush blueberries combine the fruit quality and productivity of highbush blueberries with the low chilling requirement necessary to produce a crop in the Florida climate.”

 


Highbush Blueberry in a bowl
Southern Highbush Blueberry. Photo courtesy: Willisorchards.com online catalog.

Munoz’s team has studied ways to improve taste, keep away pests, research how aroma impacts the berries’ taste and how to grow berries that are most resistant to changing climate conditions.



But in this study, Munoz and his fellow researchers developed a new blueberry variation that it hopes  can better withstand the cooler temperatures and more limited daylight that occurs in the fall in the state.


Here is how the researchers summed up their results:


“We detected phenotypic variability for the off-season flowering trait among the 536 SHB genotypes evaluated. A total of 75 genotypes (14 %) bloomed during the fall and were scored according to their flowering and fruiting load. Two genotypes received the highest score for the capacity of developing consistent clusters of flowers and fruits across all clonally propagated plants in the plot, while the vast majority had a low score due to inconsistent and/or erratic flowering across all the clones.”


In non-scientific words: “progress” and “potential.”


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