Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center
University of California
Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center

It's show time for California blueberries

Manuel Jimenez speaks at a previous Kearney Ag Research and Extension Center blueberry field day.
The California blueberry industry is growing at a healthy pace, and with 6,000 acres producing about 30 million pounds of the antioxidant-rich fruit, the industry’s volume has now surpassed Florida, said UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Manuel Jimenez.

The milestone is significant, since the southern highbush blueberry cultivars grown in California originated in the Sunshine State. Southern highbush cultivars are well adapted to the California climate because they require fewer “chill hours” to produce fruit.

A leader in the development of the California industry, Jimenez has conducted blueberry observational trials – looking at yield and flavor characteristics – for more than a decade at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. In addition, the Kearney blueberry plantings have been the scene of ongoing studies on plant spacing, mulches and pruning, research that has helped farmers successfully establish the crop in the semi-arid San Joaquin Valley.

Jimenez will invite blueberry farmers and those considering entering the industry to Kearney this week to taste and compare 35 varieties of berries. Looking over the plots, Jimenez said it wouldn’t be difficult for a farmer to use information from the Kearney trials to select good-tasting berries that ripen sequentially for months, extending one farm's blueberry season from spring until mid-way through the summer.

“You could plant Snow Chaser, a very sweet, early variety, in hoop houses and start harvesting in the second or third week of April,” Jimenez said. “Next, Reveille could come into production. Southmoon is really late and then Centurion, a rabbit eye blueberry that’s small and sweet, would be ready in late July.”

On Wednesday, May 18, Jimenez will lead a tour to small and large commercial berry farms and packing facilities. Discussion topics include blackberry sunburn prevention, blackberry trellising systems, blueberry field design and layout, soil and water acidification, irrigation scheduling, harvest practices and blueberry packing and cooling.

A blueberry meeting on Thursday, May 19, features presentations on world production systems, blueberry nutrition, frost protection and blueberry market outlook. Following lunch, participants adjourn to visit the research plantings and industry exhibits.

For more information about the blueberry meetings this week at Kearney, see the flyer.

Posted on Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:43 PM

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