Blueberries and Strawberries
The Georgia blueberry and strawberry industries are dynamic enterprises of relatively recent development. The blueberry industry
is concentrated in the flatwoods of southeast Georgia and ships fruit all over the world. The strawberry industry is spread
throughout the state and caters mainly to Georgia customers.
development of the blueberry industry is an interesting story. Local fishermen in Brunswick and Toomsboro had collected some of the best wild berries from the Satilla and Withlachoochee rivers of south Georgia. These
selections were crossed with selections from west Florida to create cultivars (cultivated varieties) of rabbiteye blueberries
(Vaccinium ashei). Since 1944 the University of Georgia has maintained a blueberry breeding program and released twelve cultivars of rabbiteye blueberries. These cultivars have
formed the basis for the Georgia blueberry industry.
In the early 1970s the first blueberry cooperative was formed in Alma. Today there are two primary market outlets for distant
shippers of blueberries: one in Michigan and one in Florida.
Starting in the mid-1990s,
southern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum hybrids) have been grown in significant quantities in Georgia. In south Georgia southern highbush blueberries ripen in April
and May, and rabbiteyes ripen in late May, June, and July. Today more than 200 growers have planted about 5,500 acres, concentrated
in the southeastern corner of the state, from Valdosta (Lowndes County) eastward to Nahunta (Brantley County) and northward to Baxley (Appling County). Fourteen packing plants export the fruit to markets throughout the United States, Canada, and Japan. About 30 to 50 percent
of the crop is sold fresh, and the rest is processed
into frozen berries. Mechanical harvesters are used to gather the crop for the processed market. Pick-your-own and direct-sales
blueberry farms are scattered throughout the state as well. In 2003 Georgia produced 17 million pounds of blueberries valued
at $18.7 million. Georgia ranks third in the nation in acreage and in some years fourth in production of cultivated blueberries.
Blueberries require a strongly acid soil for good growth. Rabbiteye blueberries perform best on soil with a good organic matter content (2 percent or more), and southern
highbush berries require a higher organic matter soil (3 percent or more) for best growth. Most growers plant on sites rich
in organic matter or mix peat moss or milled pine bark with the soil.
Georgia strawberry industry primarily consists of small family farms that offer fresh, "vine ripe" berries as a pick-your-own
or direct-sales crop. In 2002 there were sixty direct-sales and two wholesale-only farms in operation. About ten growers are
involved in distant shipping of strawberries. Total acreage is about 300, and the 2002 farm gate value (the value of the crop
as it leaves the farm) was about $4.4 million.
Chandler and Camarosa, developed in California, are the two most popular strawberry cultivars grown in Georgia. Both produce
large, tasty fruit. Normally strawberries are grown as annuals in Georgia, with drip irrigation under plastic mulch. The raised beds and plastic mulch help to keep the leaves and fruit clean, reducing plant diseases and
improving fruit quality. The crop ripens primarily from March through May in south Georgia and from April through June in
Gerard Krewer, University of Georgia
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