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Raspberries Can Be A Moneymaker For Florida Farmers

Cindy Spence

Bob Knight (305) 246-6340

GAINESVILLE—Raspberries, long considered a Northern crop, may find the South hospitable after all, researchers at the University of Florida have found.

“This is a crop with some real potential,” said researcher Bob Knight, of UF’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead. “We’ve heard from farmers as far away as North Florida who are interested in raspberries.”

Fall-bearing, or ever-bearing, red raspberries would give Florida farmers a good off-season crop, said center Director Waldemar Klassen. Visitors from Northern states, Canada and Europe prize raspberries, Klassen said, and provide a natural market for Florida raspberries.

Knight said raspberries would be a welcome addition to Florida fields because of their high price and high yield per acre.

Florida raspberry plants also would begin bearing fruit earlier than those from out of state, hitting a market window currently unfilled.

Knight’s research focuses on which varieties will perform well in Florida. The Heritage variety appears to do better than others being tested in trials at the research center, a part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Knight said. Autumn Bliss also has performed well and Ruby, a third cultivar under study for the first time this year, shows promise, he said.

As with strawberries, the plants are shipped in from up North, where they get the one ingredient they cannot get in Florida: the chilling phase they require to set fruit.

By the middle of February, when much of the plants’ native territory is under snow, the plants begin to bear fruit, allowing Florida farmers to capitalize on the late winter-early spring market. Early results show yields as high as 3,225 pounds of raspberries per acre.

And with raspberries currently commanding $3 per half-pint, they could provide a lucrative boost for Florida farmers. Knight says even $2 per half-pint would be a good return.

“Raspberries certainly produce,” Knight said. “And with our large market, there’s no reason they can’t do well.”

Knight said South Florida farmers still are recovering from Hurricane Andrew, and he hopes raspberries help fill an agricultural void left by crops not replanted after the 1992 hurricane.

“We’re still feeling the effects of Hurricane Andrew,” Knight said. “The hurricane freed newly vacant land for other crops and focused growers’ attention on the need for crops less vulnerable to the vagaries of climate. That’s part of what has impelled us to different areas of research and education.”

Limes, avocados and mangoes were virtually destroyed in South Florida and the crops’ comeback has been slow. Some fruits formerly considered niche crops have replaced the destroyed crops, and that diversity has helped keep South Florida farmers in business, he said.

“The economic strength of this part of Florida is diversity. The region isn’t totally reliant on one crop. We have a variety of crops and none are monolithic, like cotton or field corn,” Knight said. “Raspberries are another crop our growers can turn to that will add to their potential for income.”

Knight said the pick-your-own market might be particularly lucrative for raspberry growers. And raspberry plants are attractive enough to be used as an ornamental, but productive, addition to patios, like patio tomatoes.

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