Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278
Paul Lyrene firstname.lastname@example.org, (352) 392-1928, ext. 307
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Blueberry fans who find springtime prices a bit on the steep side may get a little help from two new varieties of the fruit that ripen earlier in the year.
University of Florida blueberry breeders developed the Windsor and Millennia varieties to fill a gap in the fresh blueberry market left by existing varieties that mature later in the year, said Paul Lyrene, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“The harvest period for cultivated blueberries in North America using older varieties runs from May 20 through early September,” said Lyrene. “Blueberries can be produced worldwide about eight months of the year.
“This leaves four months where conventional varieties are not available to meet the demand for fresh berries,” he said.
Lyrene said blueberries that ripened earlier have always existed, but they were too expensive for producers to grow and harvest.
“Consumers will only get berries if producers can make a profit growing them,” Lyrene said. “The varieties we had 20 years ago for early May production cost so much to produce that growers barely made any money and consumers paid high prices for berries of marginal quality.
“My goal is to have high-quality blueberries that are relatively inexpensive during the off-season,” he said.
In addition to ripening earlier, from mid-April to early May, Windsor and Millennia produce a greater quantity of fruit that is easier to pick, Lyrene said.
“We are trying to fill that market window with better quality blueberries that are more disease resistant, require less care from the grower and produce fruit that is better able to withstand shipping,” he said.
Lyrene said in order for a blueberry to be shipped long distances, it needs to have a tough skin that can go through the rigors of picking and packing unscathed.
“When you pick blueberries you tend to tear the skin, and that absolutely cannot happen on a blueberry you are going to send overseas,” Lyrene said. “A skin tear reduces the time a berry can be stored from six weeks to about four weeks and that can be real important when shipping overseas.
“Windsor tends to tear its skin when picked and so is pretty much a domestic shipping berry while Millennia has exceedingly good qualities for international shipping,” he said. “They are two more varieties in the arsenal of the local grower who wants to exploit the market to its highest.”
Lyrene said UF/IFAS breeders began working in 1949 to develop blueberry varieties that would ripen earlier. Breeders have been testing the Windsor variety since 1984 and Millennia since 1986.
“In our selection program we plant 10,000 seedlings a year,” Lyrene said. “After about 12 years, we have gone through four stages of elimination in which we are saving the healthiest plants that produce the best berries.
“From every lot of 10,000 seedlings, we end up with one or two varieties,” he said.
Lyrene said UF breeders have begun sending Windsor and Millennia cuttings to special nurseries that will take about a year to raise plants to sell to growers.