(04/20/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — Blueberries in Louisiana don’t typically ripen until about a month or so from now. But researchers with the LSU AgCenter are exploring the unique possibilities of Southern highbush varieties for both producers and consumers.
“What’s special about these blueberries is that they’re different from the normal rabbiteyes that most growers in Louisiana grow,” said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Kiki Fontenot. “These particular Southern highbush varieties are evergreen, so they’re not going to lose their leaves throughout the year like typical blueberries do. And they are producing a lot earlier.”
Some of the tested Southern highbush varieties also require very few chill hours.
“We’re looking at three varieties — Atlas blue, Bianca blue, and Jupiter blue — that require zero chill hours,” Fontenot said.“That means even in the most southern portions of Louisiana, where we rarely get temperatures below 45 degrees, you could still make fruit on these shrubs.”
Encouraging results from AgCenter research could point to economic benefits for farmers by allowing them to be the first to the market with their blueberries.
“We’ve been picking since early March off these blueberry bushes, whereas our normal rabbiteye blueberries wouldn’t be coming in for a while,” she said of the plants in the trial.
While some of the varieties are cold hardy, bearing catchy names like Snowchaser that hint at their tolerance for frost, many of the Southern highbush berries might have other benefits as well.
“In addition to researching their yield, disease resistance and productivity, we’re looking at fruit quality and composition to determine the differences in sugars and acids,” said LSU AgCenter horticulturist David Picha.
Blueberries, a source of key vitamins and antioxidants, are already known to have health benefits. The AgCenter research aims to find out if some Southern highbush fruits are even better than existing varieties.
“We’re also looking at keeping qualities in terms of post-harvest deterioration and disease,” added Picha. “The whole value chain approach from production all the way through harvesting and market quality is very exciting.”
The popular rabbiteye bushes are actually taller than Southern highbush, so why the name highbush? It’s because Southern highbush plants are taller than lowbush blueberries, a species that leads the market in other areas of the United States. Rabbiteye leads production in the South.
More information on growing fruits and vegetables in Louisiana is available online at https://bit.ly/lafruits-nuts.
Southern highbush blueberries are ready to be picked. The LSU AgCenter is researching Southern highbush blueberry varieties for potential economic and nutritional improvements for farmers and consumers. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter researchers, from left, Celine Richard, Kaylee Dynzer and Kiki Fontenot pick Southern highbush blueberries for testing and analysis. The AgCenter is researching Southern highbush blueberry varieties for potential economic and nutritional improvements to farmers and consumers. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
Southern highbush blueberry bush. The LSU AgCenter is researching Southern highbush blueberry varieties for potential economic and nutritional improvements for farmers and consumers. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter