Courtesy of UF/IFAS: Florida Blueberry Season Means Yummy Fruit for Consumers

Clint ThompsonBlueberries, Florida

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 Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) variety near you.

The ‘Sentinel’ blueberry from UF/IFAS. Courtesy, Doug Phillips.

When consumers travel to the supermarket, they will not find blueberries labeled as UF/IFAS varieties. Chances are, however, if you are buying Florida-grown blueberries, you’ll be eating a UF/IFAS-bred cultivar.

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.

“The newest releases – which have been planted by Florida commercial growers — perform very well, with high yields and good fruit quality,” said Doug Phillips, 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 operated consumer taste panels to find the fruit characteristics consumers like the most.

Scientists obtain 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 program and UF/IFAS blueberry breeder.

Importance of Texture to Blueberries

Texture is critical to growers and consumers, addition to taste and yield, 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, firm jumbo-sized berries and taste great, he said.

Florida growers 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.