California blueberry industry owes much to UCCE

May 27, 2009

California farmers interested in branching out with blueberries have gained much wisdom from UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Manuel Jimenez, who has maintained extensive research plantings of the crop at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center near Parlier since 1998.

Annual blueberry field days consistently bring significant numbers of farmers to the station to get the latest information on blueberry varieties and cultural practices, the most recent of which was held last week. According to a report on the field day in The Packer, more than 60 farmers were in attendance.

An article in the Los Angeles Times today about blueberries correctly notes that it took an "extraordinary confluence of scientific advances, daring growers and market forces to fuel the great California blueberry boom of the last decade." But writer David Karp failed to mention that it was UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors -- Jimenez, plus others working in the San Joaquin Valley and on California's coast -- that deserve the lion's share of credit for getting the industry off the ground.

The Times article speaks to the challenges of growing blueberries in an environment so different from the cool northern states where most of the nation's crop is produced. Summers are hot, winters cold, alkaline soil must be acidified and voracious birds discouraged.

At the end of his article, Karp suggests consumers remember, when they see local blueberries at the market, the heroic efforts that it took to get them there. However, the writer himself didn't remember to credit UC scientists who first thought of bringing commercial blueberry production to California, nurtured dozens of blueberry varieties under California conditions, and freely shared whatever they learned with the state's farmers.

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist