The University of Florida’s (UF) newest blueberry variety possesses the quality all growers want in the Sunshine State.
“It can make you money,” said Patricio Munoz, UF blueberry breeder.
Munoz emphasized the attributes that make the Sentinel variety highly sought after from Florida farmers.
“We can go around to yield, quality and everything but, yes, this one can make you money. I think we have consistent data since 2017 when the plant was already two years old and we started looking at it,” Munoz said.
“It’s a consistent variety in terms of high yields and a consistent variety in terms of different locations. We have good supporting data for releasing this variety for consistent yields across locations and across years and in the best time of the season, which is early.”
Years of Research
Sentinel, released in October, was the culmination of 12 years of research by three different plant breeders, including Munoz. His relationship with Florida growers is vital to producing a variety that exceeds expectations. Communication is key to know what their needs are.
“If you ask the growers what do they want, they say we want yield, high fruit quality and in the right time of the season, which is early for us in Florida,” Munoz said. “Their wish is long and very complex.”
Munoz insists there is no perfect variety and doubts there will ever be.
“In some cases you compromise fruit quality to produce the yield, and in other cases you compromise yield to produce quality. The more fruit you produce, usually the quality decreases,” Munoz said. “We use an index of selection where we combine all of these traits. We give them different weights and based on that, we try to compromise.”
One characteristic of Sentinel that does not disappoint, though, is flavor.
“Flavor is very subjective. One of us, if we tried the same blueberries, we might have different perceptions of how that blueberry tastes. It’s a difficult job for the breeder because he needs to breed for what he believes the people will like,” Munoz said. “We are trying to take subjectivity out of the equation here by doing tasting panels. We provide the fruit to a bunch of people at a tasting panel and they give us scores. What do think about it? In this case, this (Sentinel) cultivar was tasted by over 200 people and they put it in a very good place regarding the commercial cultivars that we have.
“We need to breed for the growers, but we also need to breed for the consumers, because if the consumers are not happy with the fruit that they are consuming, they’re not going to go back. If they don’t go back to buy more fruit, the growers are not going to have a place to sell the fruit. We need to please the whole chain.”
Munoz said Sentinel is a good cultivar for central and north Florida. It is not recommended for growers in south Florida where conditions are different.