Grant connects blueberry industry through technology

Johnny Morgan, Attaway, Denise, Harrison, Henry  |  8/18/2011 12:22:44 AM


News Release Distributed 08/17/11

With blueberry production increasing at a rapid rate in southeastern states, the LSU AgCenter and other land grant universities are providing much-needed information for producers and consumers through All About Blueberries, a webpage on the website, eXtension.org.

Putting information in a central location has proven to be helpful for the blueberry industry, not only in this region but around the world, thanks to a three-year United States Department of Agriculture grant, according to LSU AgCenter entomologist Natalie Hummel, who is coordinator of the grant.

Anyone with an interest in growing or buying blueberries is provided the research-based information they need from this community of practice site, Hummel said.

“Community of practice means you have a team of people who are experts on a subject working together to grow knowledge, and it’s being built for this targeted audience that’s called a community of interest,” Hummel said.

The grant, now in its second year, is already providing results for its community of interest, which is broadly defined as producers, distributors and consumers of blueberries, said Denise Attaway, LSU AgCenter project coordinator for the grant.

“The idea for creating a one-stop shop for blueberry information is driven by increasing consumer demand for blueberries due to their anti-oxidant, anti-aging properties and superior nutritional quality,” Attaway said.

The home for this information is a website that provides objective and research-based information and learning opportunities that help people improve their lives, she said. The eXtension program is an educational partnership of 74 universities in the United States.

“The information is being generated by content teams in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan and New Jersey with the help of this grant,” Hummel said. “The content of the website is being built collectively instead of everybody putting up redundant content for their state, since the issues are so similar.”

Louisiana is not quite in the top-tier of blueberry producing states, but you couldn’t tell when you look at the amount of energy and information being generated for the internet.

“The purpose of the community of practice is to bring the best specialists in the southeast together in a partnership,” Hummel said.

The funds from the grant mainly go toward building educational content, communications efforts and travel funds for the teams to meet and develop concepts and ideas.

“We understand that Louisiana is not a major blueberry-producing state, but having our residents be forced to get berries from out of state didn’t seem right, so I decided to try and generate some local interest,” Hummel said.

The community of practice provides the potential for economic, social, educational and environmental benefits. “In addition to producers and consumers using the site for information, we have teachers who also are using the site as an educational tool,” Attaway said.

Since the development of the blueberry website, the grant also allowed for the development of a Facebook page and Twitter account to help draw individuals.

Blueberry growers are beginning to use the website and see value in the available information, according to LSU AgCenter county agent Henry Harrison.

“One of my growers said he uses the information on a regular basis and has found it to be very helpful in his Washington Parish operation,” Harrison said.

Hummel said the Wiregrass Growers Association members in Alabama are just one of the groups in the region that are using information on the website for their blueberry production.

The website developers plan to secure additional grants to continue growth and improvement to the site.

To view the All about Blueberries website, go to www.extension.org/blueberries.

Johnny Morgan

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