I am writing this letter in mid-December and right now the only thing I hear our blueberry growers talking about is “chill.” In the midst of this hot topic, the two words I hear most often in this discussion are “little” and “none.”
It has been a historically warm winter so far, and this poses significant challenges to us as blueberry growers. So far this year, chill has been hard to come by throughout the state. Chill is usually defined as the time our bushes spend below 45 degrees but above 32 degrees. More chill usually means more fruit. This lack of chill also makes Hydrogen Cyanamid application a bit more of a guessing game.
HC applications do best when we have had some chill, preferably 100+ hours, but we have seen acceptable results in the past with as little as 50 hours and tremendous performance with 150+ hours. The variables of application rate, vulnerability of different varieties to HC, and the risks associated with bud development as we wait for more chill hours are on everyone’s minds.
By the time this is published, the decisions will have been made for the most part and our season will be set. So whether you choose to evergreen and forego HC application, spray early and get it over with or spray late hoping for a few more hours, it is probably a decision you have made by now.
Now we wait to see what type of winter bloom season and spring we will have— cold will affect pollinator activity early and harvest timing later. We will, as always, persevere through this unusual season as we all continue to try to figure out what a “normal” season looks like.
Speaking of pollinators, the EPA is coming up with new label requirements to protect our pollinators. The new labels should be out early this year. Please read and follow the new requirements, as you may find that some pesticides you used in the past are now prohibited to be used on crops during the bloom stage.
Commissioner Adam Putnam’s Florida Department of Agriculture has taken the lead in pollinator protection regulation by putting together a team to meet with us and other stakeholders in agriculture and the honey bee industry to gather our knowledge and concerns as they relate to pollinators in our blueberry crop. If you see an invitation toattend one of these meetings, please go. I attended one last week and there were only two growers present, including myself and I was the only blueberry grower there. The room was full of bee keepers, our friends in the industry, who were present to make their concerns known to the Florida Department of Agriculture team. Bees are vital to our industry and we need to make sure we are present to show our support for pollinator protection and our solidarity with the folks who bring the hives to our fields.
In addition to protecting our pollinators, we must also take care to protect our crops from diseases and potential threats. Here are a few pest observations of note:
The FBGA is pursuing a Section 18 exemption for something to help control the flat headed borer insect that is killing as much as 20 percent of plants in infested fields. We don’t have a label for an effective control agent at this time, but by working closely with the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA), UF/IFAS department, and Entomologist Dr. Oscar Liburd at the University of Florida, we hope to find something that works against this pest and get it approved for use on our crop.
I got a call from a grower a few weeks ago who told me that he had blue/green weevils feeding on his plants. This is usually only a pest in citrus groves. As our acreage expands some pests continue to find blueberries a good substitute host.
I still meet growers who have not heard about the parasitic algae problem, which seems specific to certain varieties. It is stunting some plants and killing others outright.
Please scout your fields carefully for these pests and pathogens and let the FBGA know if you find something new. Only by staying on guard can we protect our crop from new, invasive pests like these.
Our spring meeting date has been set for February 18 at the Trinkle Center in Plant City. I hope to see everyone there. As always, I wish everyone a safe and profitable season.
President, Florida Blueberry Growers’ Association