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Sustainable Agriculture: Programs: Organic Production

Organic Blueberry Program in Georgia

In 2002 the University of Georgia decided to initiate an organic blueberry production program to assist farmers in the development of an organic blueberry industry. Our objective was to provide farmers with excellent information on the most cost effective methods of organic blueberry culture. The focus of this work has been on addressing problems with fertilization, and weed, insect and disease control in blueberry production. A total of five experiments have been conducted or are underway, and a number of interesting discoveries have been made over the course of these studies.
 
An initial study on weed control practices was conducted on mature bushes at the Taylor Organic Farm in Alma, Georgia. Both pine bark and wheat straw demonstrated significant weed control, but wheat straw also improved growth and berry size in the same year as application (Krewer, 2002).  However, wheat straw also decomposed rapidly and was expensive (about $2000 per acre if purchased in small bales). Pine bark appeared to be a good mulching choice for established bushes due to its relatively long life. Pine bark applied in 2002 was still providing significant weed control in 2006.

The greatest need for weed control research is on young bushes. Weeds can over grow new plantings of blueberries in three weeks under Georgia conditions and the season of active weed control in blueberry fields extends from March until October. Establishing new plantings of organic blueberries on a large scale can be difficult. We are working to develop a program to provide an economical method of organic blueberry establishment. 

In the last seven years five experiments have been conducted.

  • In 2002, an organic planting was established to determine which mulches provided the best weed control, growth and yield under Georgia conditions (as described above). 
  • In 2003, a plastic mulch layer was modified to apply white-on-black plastic over the top of recently planted blueberries, which provides nearly 100% weed control in the immediate row area. A weed sweeper was also invented to sweep weeds off the plastic and into the throat of the aisle mower.
  • In 2004, an experiment was started to compare conventional production with organic production using white-on-black plastic or pine bark mulch.
  • In 2007, an experiment was initiated to evaluate additional mulches available in the blueberry belt of Georgia including peanut shells and landscape fabric. 
  • Also in 2007, an organic Spanish tunnel (high tunnel) experiment was initiated near Homerville, Georgia. Several large grants have been secured to fund the research.

Results of these experiments have been reported annually at the Organic Blueberry section of the Southeast Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference, at UGA agent trainings and the Ga. Organic Conference in Douglas, Ga., at field days/tours at UGA Alma and Alapaha Blueberry Research Farms.

More Info

Southeast Regional Organic Blueberry Pest Management Guide
A Guide for Managing Diseases, Insects, Weeds and Wildlife in Blueberries in the Southeast

Click here for the Blueberry Pest Management Guide.

Suggestions for organic blueberry production in Georgia

For more information contact:

  • Gerard Krewer
    Professor
    Extension Horticulturalist
    4604 Research Way
    Horticulture Building
    Tifton, GA 31793
    Phone: 229-386-3355
    E-mail: gkrewer@uga.edu
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