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Florida Agriculture

Florida’s blueberry season means yummy fruit, courtesy of UF/IFAS and growers


Ready to pick your own blueberries or buy them at the grocery store? Florida’s blueberry season is here, so you’ll likely find a University of Florida variety near you.

When you go to the supermarket, you won’t find blueberries labeled as UF/IFAS varieties. But several types of the fruit come in the same packages, so chances are -- if you are buying Florida-grown blueberries -- you’ll be eating a UF/IFAS-bred cultivar. You can also ask your produce manager to point out Florida-grown blueberries.

UF/IFAS blueberry breeding research dates back to the 1950s, and has a history of developing good-tasting, disease- and pest-resistant varieties. The latest cultivars, ‘Sentinel’ and ‘Albus,’ were released in 2020 and 2022, respectively.

So far, ‘Sentinel’ and ‘Albus’ bring high yields for growers and fruit that consumers like, as reflected in UF Sensory Lab consumer taste panels.

“The newest releases – which have been planted by Florida commercial growers -- perform very well, with high yields and good fruit quality” said Doug Phillips, the UF/IFAS statewide blueberry Extension coordinator. “In consumer taste panels conducted by UF/IFAS, all of the most recent UF/IFAS cultivars attained high scores, including ‘Sentinel,’ ‘Albus,’ ‘Optimus,’ and ‘Colossus.’” 

For 13 years, the UF/IFAS blueberry breeding program has run consumer taste panels to find the fruit characteristics consumers like the most.

Scientists reach the delicious flavor by finding the right balance of sugars and acids and by selecting for naturally occurring chemical components of the fruit, said Patricio Muñoz, endowed chair for the horticulture crop breeding and the UF/IFAS blueberry breeder. 

In addition to taste and yield, texture is critical to growers and consumers, Muñoz said.

“Thus, we have redirected our efforts to develop varieties that have better texture and, thus, shelf life,” he said. “This way, your fruit won’t go bad too quickly before you enjoy it at home. Also, we have worked to develop varieties that taste great.”

There are more cultivars on the way.

Though not yet available commercially, two new Southern Highbush Blueberry cultivar releases are scheduled to be available to growers in late 2024 or early 2025 – ‘Falcon’ and ‘FL19-006’, Phillips said. Both produce high yields, very firm jumbo-sized berries and taste great, he said. 

Florida growers -- mostly family farmers – produce more than 5,700 acres of blueberries, producing about 20 million pounds per season. The vast majority of blueberry acreage in Florida is planted with UF/IFAS varieties. 

Many people love to gather their own fruit from blueberry U-pick farms.

U-pick operations can be found through north, north central and northwest Florida counties, primarily near Ocala, Gainesville, Tallahassee and Pensacola. But you can also find other U-pick operations near you, elsewhere in Florida.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries and all Florida residents. 

For more information, go to ifas.ufl.edu.

Feeding a hungry world takes effort. Nearly everything we do comes back to food, from growing it and getting it to consumers to conserving natural resources and supporting agricultural efforts. Explore all the reasons why at ifas.ufl.edu/food.

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