Florida Organic Blueberry Production a Challenge

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By Cint Thompson

Interest in organic blueberry production in Florida has waned in recent years. The late freeze event in January was not helpful in convincing growers to convert production.

Organic blueberries
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS. Shows Phil Harmon in a field of blueberries.

Phil Harmon, professor and Extension plant pathologist at the University of Florida, discusses the state of the industry in Florida.

“Growers have converted a few acres in some cases to organics and kept conventional, and others have been doing the organic thing for quite some time. I’d say 10 years ago there was more interest in it because of the price premium, but that’s declined a little bit now compared to what it was,” Harmon said. “Those who have stuck with it have continued to struggle through it, and those that are trying it tend to go for the small number of acreage to begin with. Some of them make it, but I think the majority think it’s not something that’s feasible and back out of it.”

Production struggled this year following cold temperatures that the caused the blueberries to be susceptible to diseases. Ripe rot, anthrancose fruit rot and botrytis were problematic for these producers.

“Where it was the worst, of course, was with our organic fruit producers that have few good options for preventing these sort of diseases,” Harmon said.

Organic production will always be a challenge in Florida due to the state’s natural susceptibility to various environmental factors that growers in other states don’t have to contend with.

“We have really favorable environmental conditions here in the Southeast, particularly in Florida, for fungal diseases. We also have insects and (other) pests. Without the conventional pesticides, it’s a real challenge,” Harmon said.

“We have a few folks who have invested in organic production as a way to make a premium because of market conditions. There are several hundred acres of organic production. It’s really tough in Florida to grow anything organic, particularly for those guys. One grower here in Alachua County that I work closely with, he’s all organic. They struggled this year more so than any of the conventional (production) for sure.”