PRESIDENTS LETTER – What’s Happening Now and How Your FBGA is Working for You 

We are in our winter growing season now and most of us are seeing the beginning of bloom show up on our bushes. Most growers I have talked to have reported significantly more chill this year than the past two seasons. This sounds good for bloom set and fruit production this season. We’ll see…

Supplemental pollinators should be in your fields now: Honey bees or bumbles, or both. Most of us are lucky enough to have an abundant supply of native pollinators, but it doesn’t hurt to give them a hand with the huge volume of bloom in our fields at this time of year.

Freeze protection— if you use it, are you ready? We have had crop damaging freezes as late as April 1 in past years. Check pumps, valves that have not been operated in a while; they may be stuck, so move them now. Get your thermometers in the field, calibrate and throw away or replace any that do not read 32˚ F when placed in ice water. There is an excellent article in this issue on freeze protection by Dr. Jeff Williamson and extension agent Gary England.

It’s also not too early to think about harvest activities:

  • Check your stock of harvest supplies— lugs, buckets and other items. If your acreage has increased or your plants are maturing this year, you may need more supplies.
  • Reserve your Reefer truck now, if you use one. The rental agencies I talked to tell me that they are bringing in all the units they can from surrounding states for our harvest season, but the best ones go fast.
  • Labor— start to think now about how you are going to recruit harvest workers and/or crew leaders. Some marketers offer labor services too, although their performance in a lean year last season left many growers with good quality fruit unharvested in their fields. It makes no sense to grow a crop that you can’t harvest.
  • Food safety— are you on a program? If not, get on one now. Have you thought about when to schedule your third party inspection? Sometimes an early inspection is easier.
  • Marketers— have you switched? Communication and trust are the keys to this relationship. Find out now about harvest forecasts, what will be done with your culls and payment policies so there will be fewer surprises once the fog of harvest time hits.
  • The harvest forecast for this season— who really knows what we will get this year. While additional chill bodes well, we have a long way to go until the end of our season. I would discourage anyone from making any large predications, especially when talking to the media. Last year was a good example of high forecasts causing some lower than market prices as brokers tried to prepare and pre-sell fruit that never materialized. A little cold snap or pathogen and we could be set back significantly.

Our survey of growers throughout the state is moving along well. We should soon have some more accurate numbers on our acreage, varieties, and plant density. We all owe a big thanks to the hard working folks at UF/IFAS for taking the lead in getting this important information for our industry.

In the past, all we used to talk about was the birds going after our crops. Now it seems that a new pathogen comes at us every few months. The current critter after our berry plants is our cover story for this issue— a “flathead borer” insect that is killing our plants at the crown. Read more about this new, mystery pest in this issue’s excellent article by FBGA Board member Michael Hill and UF Entomologist Dr. Oscar Liburd.

The new parasitic algae continue to be a problem and have made the viability of some promising new cultivars doubtful as they try to survive the attack of this pathogen. We are fighting it with copper and “Phite” type sprays, but more research is needed into this new threat.

Speaking of pathogens, we have been trying to get the word out to growers quickly about new pests and other urgent information in timely email blasts. If you are not receiving this information, please make sure we have your correct contact info. Grower feedback about these notifications has been universally positive and the FBGA Board of Directors and Executive Committee thinks it is important to keep you, the grower, informed about these new threats in a timely manner.

Our new office, located in the City of Brooksville in Hernando County, and our new administrative assistant have both allowed us to be much more responsive to growers’ needs. The City of Brooksville continues to charge ahead in cooperation with our organization and The Florida Blueberry Festival to be the “home of Blueberries” in our state.

Some good news: The pine bark shortage seems to have become less of an issue this year. Most growers report an ample supply at good prices.

There is a lot of useful information in this issue:

  • Freeze protection update with timely thoughts on ice loads and wet conditions
  • COVER STORY: Flathead borer on Florida blueberry bushes
  • Immigration reform and labor issue pitfalls to avoid
  • FDACS BMP Program Overview— Part I
  • Update on bud mites, blueberry gall midge, and chilli thrips
  • Grower 411: Important links and WFRP information
  • Plans and predictions for this year’s Florida Blueberry Festival

Our next general membership meeting and trade show is scheduled for Tuesday, February 17 at the Trinkle Center in Plant City. I hope to see you all there. I wish everyone a safe and profitable season.

Dudley Calfee
President, Florida Blueberry Growers Association.