Growers’ Needs Steer Blueberry Breeding

Blueberry breeders continue to try to improve varieties as grower needs and markets change.

Scott NeSmith, professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Horticulture, said there are three main challenges that are facing blueberry growers right now that breeders are working to solve.

The first challenge is to avoid times where the crop could be exposed to too much cold weather and could freeze. “This requires looking for new varieties with a short flowering-to-ripening period,” NeSmith said.

An unsteady supply of labor has caused issues for growers as well. NeSmith said this challenge is being solved by focusing on varieties that require less manual labor and allow growers to use machines more often.

The third challenge is the size of the market for blueberry growers. “We strive to keep improving blueberry fruit quality, including flavor, texture and storability, so as to improve consumer desire and acceptance of our blueberries,” NeSmith said.

Along with these factors, he said it is important to create breeds that can tolerate the weather in the Southeast.

These challenges can be difficult to address because they may not have actually happened yet. NeSmith said this is because the process for creating a new blueberry cultivar takes anywhere from 10 to 12 years.

NeSmith said, “We try to have an array of blueberry genetics coming along with various improved traits of flavor, firmness, yield, plant types, ripening times, etc. to be prepared for new challenges that we may not even know about yet.”

Input from growers helps breeders figure out just exactly what needs to be done in the program. NeSmith said feedback from growers is necessary for the breeders to create successful cultivars.

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