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High season for blueberries – Florida trend

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From Alachua County to Lake Okeechobee, Florida's blueberry season is underway. “It looks like it’s going to be a good season,” said Douglas Phillips, blueberry expansion coordinator at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. He notes the heavy green fruits he observed during the winter at the experimental sites he monitored.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida harvested 32.6 million pounds of blueberries on 6,900 acres in 2022, bringing in $104 million and making the state one of the top 10 producers in the country.

The state is uniquely positioned to have the earliest flowering window while the rest of the country overwinters, but it competes with growers in warmer climates. Mexico's blueberry production window from February to May overlaps with Florida's peak season, which runs from March to May.

Labor costs remain a challenge for farmers as the bushes have to be picked by hand. Growing blueberry varieties compatible with mechanical harvesting is the future of the industry, according to Phillips. Two new varieties from UF's blueberry breeding program – 19-006 and 17-141 – were introduced to growers this year and will be officially named once the patent process is complete.

Florida residents can participate in the harvest at U-Pick farms throughout the state. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a U-Pick farm search map in the Consumer Resources section of its website, and destination marketing organizations such as Visit Central Florida regularly publish lists of local farms.