There was an item in the news this week that reminded us that Florida is truly a state of innovation, including its oldest industry: agriculture. The Sunshine State became known for its booming orange industry, and while that crop has significantly declined (now trailing California), Florida still offers a beautiful abundance of healthy fruits. Blueberries fuel a whopping $60 million-a-year industry in the state and scientists at the University of Florida have recently developed a new variety: the ‘Sentinel’ Blueberry.
The new strain of blueberry was developed by Patricio Muñoz, a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) assistant professor of horticultural sciences. Muñoz named the ‘Sentinel’ blueberry in honor of a longtime supporter of UF’s blueberry breeding program, Alto Straughn. Straughn’s work with southern highbush blueberries helped launch Florida’s blueberry industry. As an alumnus of the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Straughn owned blueberry farms near Waldo, FL – just northeast of the primary UF campus in Gainesville. Of course, it was on Straughn’s farm where the new ‘Sentinel’ variety was first tested and where the 86 year-old farmer still tends his crop.
On selecting the blueberry’s name, Muñoz wanted a symbol that represented Straughn’s contribution to the program: “A sentinel is a watcher or guardian…it is symbolic. We named the blueberry after Alto because he watched and guarded the blueberry breeding program for many years.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, blueberry farmers in the state produce between 10-12 million tons of blueberries every year in Florida. This new ‘Sentinel’ variety is special in that it increases the farmers’ harvest for central and northern Florida because of the blueberries ability to grow in low-chill, southern regions. The scientists working with the new variety claim that it’s also a higher quality fruit than previous varieties they had developed.
With April kicking off blueberry season in Florida, stay vigilant as a sentinel when at your local grocery or farmer’s market and give these delicious ‘Sentinel’ blueberries a try!
See you on the road,