TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The humble blueberry is enjoying a bonanza in Florida.
In the last decade, the area harvested with blueberries in Florida has tripled, the Tampa Bay Times Reported Saturday.
This year's crop is expected to reach around 25 million pounds. That's small-time compared to top producer Chile, which exports about 174 million pounds, mostly to the United States.
But it's not that far off U.S. blueberry leader Michigan, which produced about 87 million pounds in 2012.
Farmers say experts at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are behind the growth. Their Plant Innovation Program developed about 98 percent of the southern highbush berries now grown in the state.
Grower Alto Straughn says the UF version of the fruit "are better, bigger, tastier and with a better yield."
There's something else about blueberries that makes growers happy. Machine-picking them is easier than crops like strawberries, a benefit at a time when immigration reform is at a standstill, and farmers complain they can't find enough harvesters in the United States.
Blueberries generated nearly $70 million in cash receipts in 2011 up from $39 million in 2007.
Fresh blueberries can be found in grocery stores year all long these days, but Florida is grabbing the market share from around March to June, coming in at the end of the South American harvest but before things warm up enough along the Atlantic seaboard and Pacific northwest. Farmers say they hope to expand their season even more in the coming years.