‘USDA-Spiers’ Rabbiteye Blueberry

Poplarville, MS Blueberries hold immense value as a specialty crop in the United States, with a market exceeding $900 million in 2019. The southeastern region, primarily cultivating rabbiteye blueberries, contributes significantly to this market. Historically, rabbiteye blueberry production relied on land races, but increasing demand for fresh market blueberries spurred the development of improved cultivars.

Increasing demand for southern-grown fresh market blueberries created the opportunity to develop a new specialty crop industry and subsequently the need for improved rabbiteye blueberry cultivars. Rabbiteye breeding programs were established in the early 20th century, leading to the commercialization of new cultivars by the 1960s. However, competition from early ripening southern highbush blueberry cultivars has challenged the rabbiteye’s market niche. To address this, the ‘USDA-Spiers’ cultivar has been introduced, offering early ripening and improved berry qualities.

‘USDA-Spiers’ blooms late to avoid spring frost injury and produces berries as early as mid-May. It features very firm, medium-to-large, light-blue berries with excellent flavor. While its growth rate is slower than other cultivars, it propagates readily and exhibits very good adaptation to native soils and climatic conditions of the upper Gulf Coast.

Observations on fruit and plant characteristics of ‘USDA-Spiers’ and selected rabbiteye blueberry cultivars at Perkinston, MS, 2015-22 are on chart below:

Table 1.

Growers considering ‘USDA-Spiers’ should note its slower growth and the need for cross-pollination with other rabbiteye cultivars. Despite its slower maturation, it promises high productivity and quality fruit, making it suitable for both gardeners and commercial growers in the Gulf Coast region seeking an early ripening blueberry for the fresh market.

Dr. Stephen Stringer is a Research Geneticist with the USDA-ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory. He conducts research on breeding and genetics of small fruit crops.

Dr. Arlen Draper is a retired USDA-ARS Research Geneticist.

Read the full story of this new blueberry cultivar on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal website at: https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI17042-22

Established in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science is recognized around the world as one of the most respected and influential professional societies for horticultural scientists. ASHS is committed to promoting and encouraging national and international interest in scientific research and education in all branches of horticulture.

With thousands of members worldwide, ASHS represents a broad cross-section of the horticultural community-scientists, educators, students, landscape and turf managers, government, extension agents and industry professionals. ASHS members focus on practices and problems in horticulture: breeding, propagation, production and management, harvesting, handling and storage, processing, marketing and use of horticultural plants and products. To learn more, visit ashs.org

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