June 4, 2003 | By: Haven Miller
JACKSON, Ky.

For several years blueberries have been a significant cash crop in states like Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey and Michigan.  Now the crop is starting to generate real interest among Kentucky growers as well.

“Acreage devoted to blueberries has been increasing over the past few years as Kentucky farmers look for other crops they might grow,” said Terry Jones, University of Kentucky Extension horticulture specialist headquartered at UK’s Robinson Station.

Interest in growing blueberries likely is influenced by two, closely linked factors: good profit potential and increased consumer demand.

“This is a highly-perishable product that commands an excellent price when it’s presented as a fresh, high-quality product in the retail market,” said Tim Woods, Extension marketing specialist in the UK College of Agriculture. “Also, consumers have been able to tie in some important, positive health characteristics to blueberries in terms of them being one of the fruit products associated with inhibiting cancer and being a healthy alternative for the diet.”

Woods said it doesn’t take a large amount of land to have success with the crop.

“A lot of our growers who are producing on-farm blueberries find they can do very well with two or three acres,” said Woods. “Even with as little as 30 or 40 bushes, a farmer would have enough product to sell at the local farmers market alongside their other fruit products such as strawberries and blackberries.”

Because presentation is so important to successful sales, UK marketing researchers are looking into what types of containers are best to use.

“Restaurants that like to buy fresh blueberries might want them in five or 10 pound containers, but growers also are selling quarts, pints, half pints, and even decorative baskets that add a lot of character and image to the product,” Woods said.

Although blueberries are not significantly harder to grow than other crops, establishing them can be tricky, and it takes three or four years of skilled management to have a marketable crop. They require a site with good drainage, plenty of organic matter and an extremely acid soil with a pH level between 4.5 and 5.5. 

“Rich tobacco ground or a wonderful soybean field that was flat and in a low-lying area would not necessarily be where you’d want to plant your blueberries,” Jones said.

At Robinson Station in east Kentucky, and also UK’s west Kentucky Research and Education Center at Princeton, researchers are investigating which blueberry varieties grow best in our state’s soil and climate.

“At Robinson we have some numbered cultivars that are crosses between Northern Highbush and Rabbiteye which tolerate higher soil pH and have a somewhat unique flavor,” Jones said.  “We’re hoping to find varieties that ripen later in the year and extend the growing season that we can recommend to Kentucky producers.”

Blueberry is one of the crops to be highlighted at the Robinson Station Field Day July 17.  A workshop at 10 a.m. (EDT) features UK horticulturists, disease and insect specialists, and agricultural economists talking about growing and marketing blueberries and blackberries. Other horticultural crops featured at the field day include hydrangeas, pumpkins, tomatoes, ornamental gourds, and ornamental corn.

Contact: 

Terry Jones, 606-666-2438, ext. 234; Tim Woods, 859-257-7270