A team of agriculture experts from the University of Georgia (UGA) is working to solve the postharvest quality problems affecting Georgia’s blueberry growers in recent seasons. The project, supported by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) Office of Research and UGA Cooperative Extension, seeks to handle the “major issues” with fruit quality, specifically in rabbiteye blueberries, one of the two prominent types of blueberries cultivated in the state.
The team will take a three-pronged procedure to the situation, looking at plant disease, postharvest handling, and growing practices. They formed the examination by gathering samples from the 2022 crop and conducting lab studies on postharvest transportation and storage to choose how fruit quality varies over time after harvest. Next, the team will perform additional analyses at the Georgia Blueberry Research and Demonstration Farm in Alma and in collaboration with growers.
“We primarily have two types of blueberries produced in the state, Southern highbush varieties and rabbiteye varieties, with rabbiteye including a later yield in the growing season. Unfortunately, some of our rabbiteye growers and packinghouses have noted problems with product quality,” said Jonathan Oliver, fruit pathologist and assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at CAES. “Growers invest a lot of resources in preparing for harvest, and when their output comes in at more inferior quality than they anticipate, it can influence their bottom line.”
Additional studies will look into factors influencing pollination, fruit set and growth, growing practices, the potential impacts of frequent harvesting schedules, and the impact of mechanical harvesting on quality. These studies are crucial for identifying the causes of postharvest quality problems and developing solutions to improve the overall quality of Georgia’s blueberries.
“We’re looking at the whole growing process from start to finish — planting to postharvest — to see what all of the different variables might be leading to this issue that the growers are having,” Oliver added. “This is the detective work.”
The UGA team’s research is beneficial for blueberry growers and consumers, as it will lead to a better-quality product that is more enjoyable to eat. In addition, the team’s work has the potential to improve the overall reputation of Georgia’s blueberries and help the state’s blueberry industry thrive.