Zhanao Deng, a researcher at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) and his team won a $76,000 award from the UF/IFAS Research office. The group plans to decrease obstacles so the blackberry sector can flourish.
“The blackberry has emerged as an important alternative crop for Florida growers,” Deng and his team wrote in their application for the funding. “Many Florida farmers are interested in growing it. Our visits to — and an online survey of — Florida blackberry growers indicated that the most concerning issue is low berry yield.”
Blackberries are the fourth largest-selling berry in the United States, accounting for $549 million in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But in Florida, blackberries constitute only a small portion of the acreage. Deng and his team hope to increase blackberry acreage to 1,000 acres.
Shinsuke Agehara, also at the GCREC, has been trying to help farmers grow blackberries. Agehara has been trying to develop chemical strategies that can artificially induce bud break, so blackberries can be productive even without sufficient chill hours.
If the average blackberry yield in Florida is increased to 8,000 pounds per acre, the per-acre value could reach as much as $35,360. This yield is achievable in Florida, as one grower reported 14,175 pounds per acre, Deng said.
“These models indicate that blackberry production can be a highly profitable agricultural enterprise in Florida,” he said.