Which varieties of blueberries should be planted? This is a question that many growers are probably grappling with, both newcomers to the production of blueberries and experienced growers who are starting to restructure their plantations. Can this question be answered unequivocally? Probably not, but it is worth hearing the opinion of people who are closely involved in the industry at blueberries.
The climate in most European countries allows the cultivation of Northern Highbush varieties, which are characterised by a fair degree of resistance to low temperatures in winter, as well as the large number of chill hours required for the proper formation of flower buds and fruit. In this respect, the varieties can be divided into two types: high chill (requiring 800-1000 hours of cool) and low chill (requiring 150-800 hours of cool). It is the varieties of the first group that have dominated the plantations of blueberries in continental Europe.
THE MOST POPULAR VARIETIES ARE BLUECROP, CHANDLER, BLUEGOLD, LIBERTY, TORO, SPARTAN, PATRIOT, AURORA, WHICH HAVE BEEN CULTIVATED FOR MANY YEARS. NEW CREATIONS FROM THE BREEDING PROGRAMMES INCLUDE MEGASBLUE, TITANIUM, CARGO, CALYPSO, VALOR, LAST CALL.
Most of the new varieties already belong to the mid chill group, which means that they require less chill, but they can also be exposed to frost during the winter, especially when temperatures fall below -15/-20°C.
THE GROUP OF MID CHILL VARIETIES INCLUDES VARIETIES SUCH AS DRAPER, TOP SHELF, PEACHY BLUE AND OSORNO.
The Low Chill and No Ch ill varieties are a separate group, intended for cultivation in warm climates, where there is no risk of the temperature dropping below 0°C.
Looking at current customer needs and what might be in the future, one has to expect that the customer needs of blueberries will grow. The modern consumer wants varieties whose fruit is good and durable, and the supermarket wants varieties that the consumer will be happy to come back for. These are the challenges of blueberries growers all over the world and it is one of the key points if we want to talk about the future of this species in professional and intensive cultivation," says Krzysztof Żabówka, Managing Director of Daifressh Berry.
Will expectations be met? Breeders propose more and more new varieties, but these are not immediately accepted by growers. It is important to evaluate the production values of a given variety and see how it reacts to the local climate.
We are constantly looking for the perfect variety of blueberries , but as long as it is difficult to find one, says Jerzy Wilczewski, owner of a farm in Białousy (Podlasie), where blueberry grows on 600 hectares. The production of blueberries on this farm is already based on 'new generation' varieties such as Last Call, Cargo, Calypso, Draper, although there are still plantations of varieties such as Liber, Aurora, Duke and other older varieties (gradually replaced with new ones).
Each variety has its advantages and disadvantages. Liberty is good and fertile, but its fruit is too soft, Chandler has beautiful and big fruit, but too soft for export, Aurora has hard fruit but too sour. - says a grower from Białous. Most of the fruit on this farm is intended for export, so it has to be hard, firm, resistant in transit, well coloured.
A further advantage of the new varieties will certainly be the aroma that already distinguishes some of them (e.g. 'Cargo'). The quality depends on the variety, but also on how the plants are treated and where they are planted. On this farm a lot of attention is paid to pruning the plants (they must be well managed, with young shoots predominating), but also to other agro-technical treatments that affect the quality of the fruit (fertilisation, protection).
In recent years, the quality requirements for blueberries have been very basic (size, colour) or even minimal. The blueberry used to be just a "blue ball" packed in a small plastic container. This is no longer enough!
The modern blueberry must meet the quality requirements to really be what people want to eat, retailers want to sell. Thanks to this, the growers who offer it can develop. Although each of these groups has different goals and priorities, their goal is common - really high and repeatable fruit quality, thanks to which the whole industry can develop and all its stakeholders can prosper," emphasises Andrea Pergher of Fall Creek Farms and Nursery.
This American company is a leader when it comes to developing new varieties of blueberries (especially varieties of the Northern Highbush type). The latest creations of its breeding programs are 'FC11-118', 'Cargo', 'Blue Ribbon', Top Shelf, 'ArabellaBlue', 'Last Call', 'LunaBlue' (FC12-205), 'PeachyBlue' (ZF08-029), which are well adapted to the needs of the modern market.
So, are we answering the title question unequivocally? It is very difficult. The new varieties of blueberries seem to be very attractive because they guarantee high quality fruit (size, crunchiness, hardness, taste, durability). Usually the new varieties are easy to handle and can be harvested mechanically. However, it is necessary to check and observe them in the individual growing regions. This year, when temperatures in many parts of Eastern Europe have dropped below -30°C, it will be possible to evaluate such an important characteristic of new varieties as frost resistance. As soon as we collect this information, we will share it soon.
In the meantime, we invite you to learn about current knowledge on the cultivation of blueberry and beyond at the 9th International Blueberry Conference. This event offers both a lot of practical information in the field of agriculture and plantation management (this year a 5-hour fertiliser block), but also allows you to look at the blueberries business more broadly. This will enable you to plan your blueberries business well for the coming years.