Florida Growers Facing Blueberry Challenges

Breanna Kendrick Berries, Pollinators, Top Posts

By Breanna Kendrick

Citrus root weevil is relatively new to blueberries, but is becoming more of a prevalent issue for some Central Florida growers. Citrus root weevil typically occurs on old citrus ground that has been plowed under for blueberry production.

Doug Phillips, blueberry Extension coordinator for the University of Florida (UF), has been trying to identify some controls against this pest that have been effective in citrus production so they can be applied to blueberries. These include chemical controls and beneficial nematodes. Some UF research on beneficial nematodes is examining what’s going to be the most effective in the pine bark that blueberries are grown in.

Another challenge blueberry growers are facing is the impacts from Hurricane Irma last year. “We had standing water out in the field for a number of days, and then obviously wind damage,” explains Phillips. “Many growers, particularly in Central Florida, had thousands of plants blow over. It’s a lot of labor to reset all of those, but then you also get root damage that can make those plants more susceptible to disease, and sometimes that doesn’t show up for weeks or months afterwards.”

In addition to pest and weather challenges, lack of pollination has been reported as an issue. Pollination issues could be related to bees, weather or other factors.

UF is conducting some additional research on pollination best practices. “Through the entomology department, we’re trying to come up with more effective practices to get better pollination results. Some presentations and some articles will be forthcoming,” says Phillips.

Some growers are thinking about using bumble bees for pollination. Various research shows that bumble bees are effective pollinators of blueberries. “They tend to be a little more expensive than the managed honey bees that folks get. But because of their effectiveness and also their ability to be active in poor weather conditions and their ability to get a better pollen shed from the flowers, it’s something growers should think of to be part of the mix to manage pollination,” Phillips said.

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