ALACHUA CO., Fla. (WCJB)- The Florida blueberry industry started in the 1970s because IFAS developed a variety of blueberries called Southern high bush, which are productive in Florida’s mild climate and fruit at just the right time. Fast forward 40 years and Blueberries are the 8th most profitable winter crop in the state.
Blueberry growers like Straughn Farms in Waldo work closely with IFAS to help them research and develop new varieties for Florida growers. It’s the only way Florida can stay competitive in a market that’s becoming saturated with Mexican Blueberry imports.
From 2015 to 2017, blueberry imports from Mexico doubled. ABC Action News Tampa explains that providing Mexico with UF made varieties hurts Florida Growers and helps the competition. However, IFAS explains in a statement that the news report was a misrepresentation of the facts.
IFAS executive director John Beuttenmuller explains if they didn’t license their patents to growers in Mexico, the patent wouldn’t be covered by international law. “It would be essentially the same as falling into the public domain”.
IFAS explains that licensing blueberry varieties to Mexico gives them control over that part of their production. Less than 2% of imported Mexican blueberries are UF varieties according to Beuttenmuller. That number has decreased each of the last 3 years.
Beuttenmuller says 70% of the money that comes from licensing blueberry varieties goes back to Blueberry research which is critical because Florida blueberry growers are facing a shortage of workers who can pick blueberries. IFAS says they are working on developing varieties of blueberries that can be picked by machine, which is critical if Florida growers are going to stay competitive during the spring blueberry season.