GAINESVILLE — As April starts this week, we’re getting into another Florida blueberry season and the sweet taste that comes with the fruit. You can pick them yourself or buy them from the store. Recently, the University of Florida developed and released another tasty blueberry variety.
When Patricio Muñoz developed the newest UF/IFAS variety, he wanted to name the fruit in honor of Alto Straughn, a longtime, strong supporter of UF’s blueberry breeding program. It’s called the ‘Sentinel.’
“A ‘sentinel’ is a watcher or guardian,” said Muñoz, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences. “It is symbolic. We came up with the idea to name the blueberry after Alto because he ‘watched and guarded’ the blueberry breeding program for many years.”
For years, Straughn, an alumnus of the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and a former UF/IFAS Extension administrator, owned blueberry farms near Waldo, Florida, northeast of the main UF campus in Gainesville.
Now in his 80s, Straughn still meets regularly with the UF/IFAS blueberry breeder.
“Since I arrived at the program, Alto and I have discussed much about blueberries: cultivars, production, packing, marketing and more,” said Muñoz. “Alto has seen the industry from the beginning, and I am glad he has shared all that information with me and the blueberry breeding program team.”
Scientists first tested the new UF/IFAS variety on Straughn’s farm in Waldo, and later in fields stretching as far south as Arcadia, Florida.
“So, we have determined that the best area for its production is the central and northern parts of Florida,” Muñoz said.
Blueberries are about a $60 million-a-year industry in Florida. To put the impact of blueberries into further economic perspective, between 2010 and 2019, Florida’s blueberry farmers produced between 14.7 million and 25.3 million pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The ‘Sentinel’ blueberry increases farmers’ yield for central and northern Florida. It’s a low-chill, southern highbush variety. UF/IFAS breeds highbush blueberries, which are synonymous with low-chill and can be grown in the South, Munoz said.
It’s a higher quality fruit than previous UF/IFAS cultivars. It also gives the grower fruit at the best market window, Muñoz said.
And, it tastes good. This variety was tested in multiple flavor panels at UF, and they rated ‘Sentinel’ “high” regarding flavor, Muñoz said.
“Some good things are still happening, including a new blueberry that farmers and consumers will both enjoy,” Muñoz said.