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Courtesy of UF/IFAS and growers

Florida’s blueberry season means yummy fruit

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.

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