Blueberry Production for You-Pick Producers M. Bailey, UF/IFAS Extension, Marion County, Ocala, FL.
Situation: Marion County features fourteen blueberry farms with a majority offering you-pick to the public. The total land represented by both you-pick and conventional blueberry farms is approximately 465 acres with an aggregate value of $8.7 million. Locally grown agricultural products are an essential pillar of Marion County’s economy with blueberries being a major contributor to both the local food system and agritourism. Blueberry producers face the challenge of sustainable production due to high production costs, pests, fluctuating commodity prices, out of state competition, and imports from across the world. There is a need to support blueberry producers with educational programs that provide actionable information to operate their farms sustainably and profitably.
Methods: In coordination with five UF/IFAS faculty members, six presentations were made by to an audience of twenty local producers, farm managers, and nursery operators. Results: Program evaluations, farm visits, and follow up calls indicated that all respondents (n=18) indicated knowledge gain that was relevant to their objectives. Specifically, eleven (61%) respondents indicated behavioral change or adopted one or more practice. Behavioral change or practices adopted include: reduced water use, reduced fertilizer use, reduced costs, planted new varieties, saved time, and planted a cover crop. This program represents the first Marion County programmatic effort specifically targeting commercial blueberry farms and you-pick blueberry farms in more than five years. Conclusion: The establishment of a blueberry program has benefitted Marion County blueberry producers and is an important step for helping to maintain the sustainable production of blueberries for the local food system. Farm visits and consistent effort to communicate with each blueberry operation in Marion County has resulted in a growing relationship that will benefit blueberry producers and Marion County as a whole.