By Denise Horton
University of Georgia researchers helped make blueberries the most valuable fruit crop in the state. Now they are reaching beyond the state lines to help farmers establish blueberry crops in Latin America, Asia and beyond.
Scott NeSmith, professor of horticulture at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and head of the UGA blueberry breeding program, is working with farmers and agricultural scientists in Peru, China, Japan and other nations to test UGA-patented blueberry varieties in each country’s distinct growing conditions.
“Blueberries are becoming an international crop,” NeSmith says. “In some cases, agricultural companies or even governments have realized this is a crop they can successfully grow in their countries. In other cases, consumers have eaten blueberries imported to their countries and there is high-enough demand for local producers to experiment with growing them."
For more than a decade, NeSmith has worked with Mitsunori Ozeki, owner of Ozeki Blueberry Nursery in Japan, a long-time licensee of UGA-patented blueberry varieties. Ozeki has visited Georgia on several occasions, most recently in February of this year when he visited UGA’s Griffin Campus.
During his visit, Ozeki reported that his Japanese growers like the giant berry size of the recent UGA release, “Titan.” He also is seeking to license “Krewer,” UGA's newest blueberry variety.
“In the case of Japan, consumers have become accustomed to seeing references to Japanese-grown Georgia varieties from their small, limited industry,” NeSmith noted. “That exposure opens up opportunities for Georgia producers to export to Japan, since consumers there like our varieties and cannot produce enough of their own.”
While NeSmith’s work with Japan dates back many years, more recently he has established relationships with China and Peru. In 2014, a group from Haisheng International in China visited NeSmith’s blueberry breeding program. That visit was followed by NeSmith traveling to Maijiang County in Guizhou Province where he provided a presentation to local farmers and government officials about blueberry breeding and, particularly, UGA varieties.
Those exchanges have led to a trial agreement that will begin by the end of 2015 and last for at least five years for Chinese blueberry growers to grow UGA-patented varieties, determine their adaptability to the region and, perhaps, the future licensing of UGA varieties that perform well.
In 2014, NeSmith also traveled to Peru for discussions with Carlos Gereda, the head of Inka’s Berries, regarding blueberry propagation. Under a five-year agreement, the company will use UGA breeding material to search for varieties that are adapted to Peru’s unique production area. NeSmith will make regular trips to Peru to offer advice for growing the new crop.
These projects are just the tip of the blueberry iceberg, however. NeSmith also has international projects under way in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Portugal, Tasmania, Turkey and Uruguay, not to mention locations throughout the United States.
“In most cases, our work has been with private companies,” NeSmith said, “However, it’s important to realize that every time a UGA-patented variety is licensed to a company, we receive funding that supports our research and outreach efforts in Georgia, and it raises the visibility of our state as a world leader in blueberry development.”
For more information about the blueberry program at UGA visit blog.caes.uga.edu/blueberry/. For more information about the international work of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences visit www.global.uga.edu.
(This article was first published in the CAES Office of Global Programs' Global Horizons newsletter.)