Agenda for 2018 Blueberry Education Workshop


January 23, 2018


MSU Forrest County Extension Office

952 Sullivan Drive

Hattiesburg, MS 


Time                      Author, Title

1:00-1:30pm       Registration (no charge, just sign in upon arrival)

1:30-1:50pm       Updated Research on Spotted Wing Drosophila

                                Dr. Blair Sampson

Research Entomologist

USDA-ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory, Poplarville, MS

1:50-2:10pm       I am GAPs certified- do I need additional training and documentation under FSMA?

Dr. Juan Silva

Professor, Food Processing

Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS

2:10-2:30pm       Proper Disease Sampling Techniques

Dr. Rebecca Melanson

Assistant Professor, Extension Plant Pathologist

Mississippi State University, Central MS Research and Extension Center, Raymond, MS

2:30-2:50pm       Break

2:50-3:10pm       Accelerating small fruit breeding through genetic technology

                                Dr. Ebrahiem Babiker

Research Geneticist

USDA-ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory, Poplarville, MS 

3:10-3:40pm       Potential of UAS (Drone) Technology in Agriculture

                                Louis Wasson

Senior Extension Associate, Unmanned Aerial Systems in Agriculture

Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS

3:40-4:00pm       Q&A, Evaluation

4:00pm                 Drone Demonstration


Mississippi Fruit Problems 2015

Every year the Mississippi State University Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab published a list of the pathogens/problems that were identified.  The Lab can be found online here:  In 2015 several pathogens/problems were seen on fruit crop plants in Mississippi.  Below is the run-down. The number after the name indicates how many times it was diagnosed in 2015:

Apple (Malus x domestica)
 Abiotic (Potassium deficiency suspected) (1)
 Alternaria blotch (Alternaria mali) (1)
 Bitter rot (Colletotrichum sp.) (1)
 Burrknot (genetic) (1)
 Cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virgianae) (1)
 Cedar apple rust resistance reaction (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virgianae) (2)
 Flyspeck (Schizothyrium pomi) (1)
 Leaf spot (Gloeosporium sp.) (1)
 Leaf spot (Pseudocercospora sp.) (1)

Banana, Japanese (Musa basjoo)
 Root rot (Pythium sp.) (1)

Blackberry (Rubus sp.) ‘Arapaho’
 Abiotic (herbicide injury) (1)

Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.)
 Canker (Fusicoccum sp.) (1)
 Leaf and Fruit Spot (Exobasidium maculosum) (1)

Cherry (Prunus sp.)
 Leaf spot (Cercospora circumscissa) (1)
 Shot-hole (Wilsonomyces carpophilus) (1)

Chestnut, Chinese (Castanea mollisima)
 Abiotic (high pH) (1)

Fig, Common (Ficus carica)
 Fig canker suspected (Diaporthe eres) (1)
 Web blight (Rhizoctonia solani) (1)
 Wood boring beetles (1)

Lemon (Citrus limon)
 Alternaria leaf spot of rough lemon suspected (Alternaria sp.) (1)

Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis)
 Rust (Gymnosporangium sp.) (1)

Muscadine (Vitus rotundifolia)
 Leaf blight (Pseudocercospora vitis) (1)

Peach (Prunus persica)
 Bacterial spot (Xanthomonas arboricola pv. Pruni) (1)
 Brown rot (Monilinia fructicola) (4)
 Shot-hole (Wilsonomyces carpophilus) (1)

Pear (Pyrus sp.)
 Bacterial shot-hole disease (Pseudomonas syringae) (1)
 Cedar quince rust (Gymnosporangium clavipes) (2)
 Leaf spot (Phoma sp.) (1)
 Spot anthracnose (Elsinoë pyri) (2)

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
 Aphid injury suspected (1)
 Burl (undetermined cause) (1)

Plum (Prunus sp.)
 Black-knot (Apiosporina morbosa) 91)
 Gummosis (Botryosphaeria sp.) (1)
 Shot-hole disease (Wilsonomyces carpophilus) (1)
 Shot-hole borer suspected (1)

Satsuma (Citrus reticulata)
 Abiotic (nutrient deficiency suspected) (1)
 Abiotic (alternate bearing) (1)
 Fruit drop (abiotic) (1)
 Fruit split (abiotic) (1)
 Sweet orange scab suspected (Elsinoe fawcettii) (1)

Strawberry (Fragaria sp.)
 Abiotic (acetochlor plus heavy clay soil plus cold wet weather suspected) (1)
 Abiotic (nutrient deficiency suspected) (1)
 Abiotic (root stress-too wet) (1)
 Bacterial leaf scorch (Xylella fastidiosa) (1)


Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Oct-Dec 2015

The latest issue of the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal is out. In it several topics are covered including some SWD research, red leaf color, government programs, revised publications, and more.  Check it out by downloading the PDF at the link below:

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal. 2015. Vol. 4 Issue 4

Fall Color in Blueberries

Ah, fall.  That time of year when a respite from oppressive heat and humidity comes to south Mississippi. Fall, to me, is the best time of year.  Growing up in Michigan I appreciated the great leaf color show every year. If pressed, I will admit to missing that (but not the awful dreary weather that comes with it).  Most of the plant species in south Mississippi are not known for their fall color. Sure, there are some Swamp Red Maples (Acer rubrum) and Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua), but most don’t have really good fall color. One primary reason for that is the lack of cold temperatures. Blueberries do have some fall color, some cultivars and species more so than others.  But, let’s talk more about why fall color happens in the first place.

Many blueberry leaves turn red in the fall — or so it seems.  Actually the red pigments are there the whole time, it is just that the chlorophyll (green) overshadows the other colors. In the fall, these chlorophyll pigments degrade, leaving behind the red and orange colors. Chlorophyll breaks down in sunlight so the plant needs to continue synthesizing new chlorophyll to keep the green color in its leaves. The conditions that promote this are warmth and sunshine, both at their peak during summer. Part of the chlorophyll degradation is the plant preparing for winter — it is reallocating nutrients back to the root system. Since leaves are mainly disposable on deciduous species, it makes sense for the plant to take nutrients like Nitrogen and return it to a permanent plant structure. Once stored in the roots it can be reused in the next year.

Blueberries have anthocyanins in the leaves. Once the chlorophyll is lost, the leaves appear red due to the color spectrum of light it is absorbing. This is a natural process that helps the plant maintain leaves while it reallocates nutrient reserves to the root system.  Of course there are times of the year when we don’t want to see red leaves on blueberries, especially in the spring after a frost/freeze event, but seeing red during the fall is a natural, normal thing that portends the coming winter.

Great red fall color can be seen on commercial blueberry cultivars, but also native Vaccinium species like V. elliottii and V. darrowii. Below is a photo of ‘Springhigh’, a southern highbush blueberry released from the University of Florida blueberry breeding program.

Fall color of 'Springhigh' blueberry

Fall color of ‘Springhigh’ blueberry

Many blueberry plants are still green here in south Mississippi. Many won’t turn red, or at least not completely, before falling off the bush. Some cultivars retain their leaves throughout the winter. So much variation among blueberry cultivars and species! Enjoy the fall — while it lasts.

Beware Buying Fruit Plants at the Big Box Stores

I only write this as a public service message.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily blaming big box stores for their inventory.  I don’t know how some of the varieties are chosen and how they are labeled, but the consumer must be wary when shopping at these locations.  This past weekend I visited a big box store for a few items I needed.  I didn’t need any fruit plants, but I decided to take a look at what was available.  Needless to say, I was dismayed at the selection.  Where do I begin?

Available grape vine varieties: Concord, Flame Seedless, Black Monukka, Mars, Thompson Seedless.  Problem: All of these are not resistant to Pierce’s Disease and will die within a couple of years at most. There were no muscadine varieties available at this location in south Mississippi.  It boggles the mind. Solution: Do some serious research before buying grapes in the Deep South. Muscadines are the best option.  Some bunch grapes do have potential, but are not usually very common in the nursery trade.

Available blueberry varieties: Legacy, O’Neal. Problem: There is no problem with these per se, except that one was mislabeled as a rabbiteye variety (Vaccinium virgatum) and the other a wild blueberry species (Vaccinium darrowii) when they are actually southern highbush (Vaccinium spp.).  I did not see any rabbiteye varieties (although I did not look at every plant).  Rabbiteye varieties are the best option for a homeowner here.  Solution: Southern highbush blueberries are partially self-fertile but will do better with a pollinizer.  Rabbiteye varieties require planting two different varieties with overlapping bloom times.  None of this information was available on the labeling at the store.  Local nurseries will have a better selection.

Available pecan variety: Elliot. Problem: There were two tags on the tree.  One said ‘Elliot’ pecan and the other said “ungrafted seedling”, which means it is NOT Elliot, but seedling of Elliot. This is very misleading.  Someone thinking they were getting an Elliot may end up disappointed.  A seedling of Elliot may or may not have some of the Elliot traits that make it desirable to grow.  Pecan trees also need to have two different varieties with overlapping bloom periods in order to produce nuts.  In this case there was only one type available. Solution: Local nurseries may not have the best selection.  The internet is your friend in this case.  Most pecan trees come from AL, GA, or TX, although if you search hard enough you can find some in MS.  A homeowner should choose varieties that are resistant to pecan scab.  If you don’t and do not plan to control the disease, it is really a waste of your time, money, and effort.

Available bramble variety: Boysenberry. Problem: Boysenberry is a hybrid raspberry x blackberry cross that originates from the west coast of the U.S. and is not especially tolerant of high heat conditions.  Coupled with the high humidity and prodigious spring rainfall it is a recipe for poor plant production.  It was also mislabeled as Rubus ursinus. Solution: Many blackberry varieties are available that will grow and produce in the Deep South.  Raspberries fair less well because they too do not tolerate the heat as well as blackberries.  I have seen blackberry varieties available at local nurseries recently, namely Kiowa, Apache, and Brazos (!).  These are far better options than Boysenberry in our area, although the thorny types will have problems with rosette (double blossom) fungus.

There were probably other fruiting plants that I didn’t look at too closely at to see if there were problems with them as well.  The real lesson here is this:  Know what you are looking for and why.  Realize that all blueberries or grapes or pecan are not created equal.  Some do well here and some do not.  Mislabeling is not a new thing in the nursery trade, but seeing the grievous errors in these examples made me cringe.   Before buying at the big box store near you, educate yourself on the crop you wish to purchase, talk to the folks in the garden center, and if you are not satisfied go somewhere else.  Contact your local county Extension office for more information on fruit crops for your area.  Or feel free to contact me.  I can help.

A New Blueberry Borer?

Today on Twitter from the Southern Region IPM Center, I found out that there is an unidentified borer attacking blueberry plants in Florida.

To see the full story and photos of the damage, go to the Growing Produce website here:

If you have seen this type of damage on your blueberry plants, please let me know.

Soft Wax Scale on Blueberry

Today it was brought to my attention that one of the potted blueberry plants here at the station had scale on it.  A couple months ago, I blogged about another type of scale on grapes.  The scale I saw today was different.  Both were soft-bodied scale, but the type on the blueberry is a soft wax scale (Ceroplastes spp.).  It may even be Indian Wax Scale (Ceroplastes ceriferus).  These types of scale infest a lot of different plant species in the eastern U.S.  Since these are here in the summer they are feeding on the blueberry canes and maturing (thus becoming more tolerant of pesticides) so that they can overwinter.

Soft Bodied Scale on small blueberry plant

Soft Bodied Scale on small blueberry plant

If you have these critters on your plants and would like to know what to do about it, this link has some good info on that:

Below is a photo I took a couple years ago of a plant in the field.  The infestation is larger.

Soft Bodied Scale on a blueberry plant in the field

Soft Bodied Scale on a blueberry plant in the field

These insects will overwinter as adults and start their lifecycle again in the following spring.  Left untreated they can cause significant damage or even stress the plant to the point of low productivity or even lead to plant death.

Book Review: The Blueberry Years by Jim Minick

Earlier this year I was in Oxford, Mississippi.  It was a beautiful spring morning and I was a little early for my scheduled talk on fruit crops.  Since the weather was so nice and it had been quite some time since I had visited Oxford, I decided to walk downtown and take a look around the square.  I had two goals in mind – find the Square Books bookstore and to get a cup of coffee.  Luckily, I was able to do both.

While perusing the titles at Square Books, I came across one that interested me.  It was called “The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family”.  On the cover was a notification that this book was also a winner of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) best nonfiction book award.  I thumbed through the book, read the laudatory blurbs on the cover, and decided to purchase the book.  Memoirs on specialty crop farming are rare, so I thought I would give this one a try.

The author of this book, Jim Minick, teaches at Radford University, so he is a highly educated man.  I found his writing to be engaging for the most part; yet, overly romanticized the experience of being a blueberry grower.  For example, he described growing blueberries as being in

“…the church of Vaccinium corymbosum, the high order of the highbush, with Berkeley and Nelson serving as deacons, Blueray and Bluecrop members of the choir, and Spartan and Patriot the ushers for the day.”

Although I understood his exuberance at becoming a grower of blueberries, I found this type of saccharine description too much.  He also invoked words from writers John Keats and Henry David Thoreau to convey the feeling of being a blueberry grower. This is the weakest part of the book, too much romance spent on a task that is not at all romantic.  The idealization of farming is something that someone without any experience does (and I see this all the time with new growers) and it shows in this book.  However, with that being said, I give the author credit for moving beyond the romance and into the reality.  In fact, he does it slowly and skillfully as if the reader is watching a shooting star come into sight, burn brightly, then die, leaving a trail of memories in its wake.

Initially, Jim, and his wife Sarah, are drawn to a simpler life and thus want to be more in control of their own lives.  The author states:

“We want to write and make baskets, grow most of our own food, and follow a dream we call homesteading. The farm, we hope, will allow this, and the berries will be our cash crop, our money-maker to pay taxes and other expenses.”

As his family had grown blueberries in the past, Sarah considered Jim an expert in his ability to make blueberries their cash crop.  He said,

“I think I bleed blue” and

“Genetically, it seems, blueberries have flowed in my family’s blood for several generations.”

These statements seem plausible until the reader finds out that his family members were never blueberry farmers, but rather had ¼ of an acre.  At this point I saw his delusion clearly, but it took some time before he saw it too.

Even though I could read between the lines at how the story was going to eventually end, the writing achieves a certain story telling coziness, as if the reader were sitting in front of the fireplace listening to an uncle recount a story of the Dust Bowl.  Romance becomes matter-of-fact, but still told with a twinkle of both love and regret.

Slowly, Jim comes to realize that:

“…the answers I searched for often could come only from the field itself and those of us trying to make it something blue, but I didn’t know this at the time.  The manuals and experts offered general tips, or told about how they approached a similar problem, but no book could ever be written to tell a farmer how to farm a specific field.”

His comprehension of his new situation is well told.  Not all growers come to understand it as well.  The field is the teacher and you are the student.  The field must be earnestly studied, because it is an ever changing entity.  It is a life-long learning course and no one can answer its questions as good as its owner.  Once Jim and his wife realize this, their efforts really take off and the field becomes something extraordinary.  They begin to see everything in a different way.  One day they have an entomologist visit and he looks the bushes over,

“…bush by bush, leaf and berry and twig…”, finding “…a world full of beneficial bugs.”

They are able to see that every bush has its very own environment and needs to be treated as such.  It was a turning point to their subsequent management.

The author obviously did quite a bit of research on the history of blueberries as well, citing the work of Dr. Frederick Coville as well as Elizabeth White.  If only he had done as much work upfront before he planted the bushes.  Now perhaps he did not go into all the details of the pre-plant investigations that were done and, to be fair, this was before the Internet era.  But as an Extension Specialist, I found it disheartening (yet, not surprising) that he did not forge a strong relationship with his local county extension agent – at least the details of that relationship were suppressed in the book.  An Extension agent could have helped with many aspects of things they struggled with in the beginning, and at the end.

Jim and Sarah are drawn to organically growing the bushes. Jim writes a meditation on organics which I found down-to-earth and refreshing.  It is steeped in reality.  Although a believer in an organic system, he correctly states that,

“Organic does not necessarily mean that the food was grown in an ecologically, energetically, or socially sustainable way…” and that many organically grown foods are still done in a “…monoculture.”

To sum it all up he makes a statement that effectively sums up the whole organic food movement:

“So maybe farming organically is getting to the heart of a healthy food system.  But we still have a ways to go.”

Even though he puts organics in perspective, many of his customers are more zealous.  Jim finds that instead of just growing blueberries, he has gotten into the business of religion.

“The religion is “organic” and whether we like it or not, we’ve created this house of worship.”

He finds himself somewhat torn between the reality and the perception, which I found to be a nice parallel between his reality and initial perception of being a blueberry grower.  It is a joy to watch the development of Jim and Sarah as blueberry growers.  They start from ground zero and grow into competent, no, excellent growers in a matter of a couple years.  They have the verve and desire to learn and that is what keeps them going despite the setbacks.  And there are setbacks.

Like many growers in Mississippi this past year, a late spring freeze was a harsh reality for Jim and Sarah.  They experienced a nearly total “crop failure” leading to “…an empty field, an empty cash drawer, and a row of empty buckets.”  They were reduced watching the temperature drop and drop and drop as the set flowers buckled under the cold.

“We do the only thing we can: bundle up to worry and watch.”

This devastating freeze event eventually led to the end of Jim and Sarah as blueberry growers.  It caused them to do some soul-searching about the blueberry business.  In the end they were able to,

“…learn from this field of berries that sometimes beauty and business don’t mix…”

In the beginning the author stated that their desire was to homestead and live off of the earnings of their blueberry field.  One of the great mistakes they made was not understanding how many acres they needed to make that a reality.  From the very first page I knew this, but it took the author almost 300 pages to figure it out.  This is an example of where Cooperative Extension could have helped in a substantial way.  One question could have led to a much different outcome.

“And even though our acre field is four times larger than this Pennsylvania one, it is still not enough.  We needed at least four acres of blueberries, I realize now.  Four acres to provide enough income to stay home, work where we live, and be real farmers.  That size of a dream I never had imagined, never planned for, never knew we needed.”

Unfortunately, the failings lie on both sides.  His, for not doing enough research to discover Cooperative Extension and ask the right questions, but also Cooperative Extension for not making itself more well-known.  I know this is a common lament of Cooperative Extension.

My favorite part of the book came when Jim finally realized that his one-acre blueberry patch was just a hobby farm.  During most of the time he took offense at the idea he was a “hobby farmer.”

“Both hobby farm and farmette imply a certain luxury, activities done in the spare time afforded by wealth made as some off-farm job.  For years I knew I did not live on a farmette and I was not a hobby farmer.”

But both he and his wife had other jobs that supported his little farm.  He just could not recognize it or didn’t want to accept it.  In the end though, he came to the conclusion that he was indeed a hobby farmer.  What else could a blueberry grower with one acre of plants be?  Jim eloquently ends his dream of being a blueberry grower by stating,

“It’s okay to quit a cherished dream, especially if quitting opens such a wide door to more time to write and to hike the wooded hills that surround us on our new farm.”

Sometimes, he states, that one can love, “…the idea of being a blueberry farmer more than the reality and all its demands.”

I won’t give away the whole story, because it is worth reading and giving some thought.  It is a very good recollection of what it takes to be a successful blueberry grower – at least on a small scale – although he could have been even better with a little more help.  There are a couple small errors that distracted me a little, but probably won’t most readers (for example, tendrils and roots are not the same thing, and Southern Highbush blueberries are comprised of multiple species, not just Vaccinium darrowii).

Overall, I thought the book was well done and worth my time to read it.  I think you would find it worth yours as well.