The team at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) works on a multitude of crops historically grown in the Central Florida region. However, GCREC researchers have also been dedicating their time to finding new alternative crops for Florida. One of those crops is blackberries.
Zhanao Deng, professor of ornamental plant breeding and genetics, is working on developing blackberry varieties suited to Florida’s climate.
Deng began the blackberry breeding program about four years ago after noticing grower and consumer interest in the crop. Now, Deng reports that several growers in North Florida and Central Florida are producing blackberries.
Currently, all the commercial blackberry varieties were developed in Arkansas and need about 300 to 900 chilling hours. Those hours are nearly impossible to achieve in Florida. “We usually have about 100, maybe 200 (chilling hours),” Deng explains. “Without sufficient chilling, the plants don’t grow and produce well.”
Developing a variety with a realistic chilling requirement is key for a successful Florida blackberry industry.
Deng has nearly 5,000 plants in the ground to test, and he is continuing to make crosses. “We have made a lot of progress,” he says.
Growers can see what GCREC researchers are working on at the upcoming Florida Ag Expo. Registration is now open! All preregistered growers will be eligible for a chance to win a John Deere Gun Safe courtesy of Everglades Equipment Group.
Florida Ag Expo will take place on Nov. 21 at the GCREC in Wimauma, Florida. For more information, including the full seminar agenda, visit FloridaAgExpo.net.
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