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US: Conditions good for Florida blueberry season

Lyna Knight is expecting a long Spring. It's certainly started early, with some of the blueberries at Lyna Berry Farms ripened two weeks ahead of schedule.

This is thanks to a mild winter, with no severe freezes, in Hillsborough County. But it is the post season bounty that Knight is focusing on.

Typically Florida has the monopoly on blueberries from late March until early May, between the end of the Chilean season and the start of the Georgian harvest. In that brief window the state produces the world's only blueberries.

However, this year the conditions elsewhere have not been so good, whilst in Florida they have been very good, so the expectation is that the window for this monopoly will grow.

As well as having fruit ready earlier than usual it appears as though there could be a continuation of supply until late May, when the Georgian berries would ordinarily be entering the market. This would take the Florida fruit into the period when farmers usually open up their fields to the public for the less lucrative "pick your own" market.

"As farmers, we often joke about how many berries will be left at the end of the season," Knight said. "This may be the year we actually pick them all."

The success will be greatest for farms south of Interstate 4.

A February freeze damaged many of the crops in northern Florida and southern Georgia, reducing crop sizes and delaying remaining blueberries by a couple of weeks, said Bill Braswell, president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association.

"I-4 was kind of the line where it didn't get too cold," he said. "As you go north, it just gets progressively worse."

"Overall, we are anticipating a good season," Knight said. "Unfortunately, it is based on somebody else's loss. But that's farming."

Chile also finished its season earlier than usual, ensuring that the conditions are perfect for the Florida fruit.

The shortfall in supply will also ensure good prices for the growers.

This is good news for Florida growers who have had a couple of bad years.

"The last two seasons haven't been that great for blueberries," Braswell said. "We more or less missed our market window due to weather."

Source: www.tampabay.com

Publication date: 3/23/2012


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