Good Nutrition Pays Off for Florida Blueberry Grower

Ryan Atwood knows blueberries. He grows them on his own 25 acres in Umatilla, FL, co-owns (with  business partner Michael Hill) a farm management company that oversees 160 acres of blueberries, and he consults for another dozen farms in any given season. Atwood and Hill also co-own the Billy Long Packing House, the largest blueberry packing house in Florida, which handles about 4 million pounds of fruit each year. He also serves as vice president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association.

‘Emerald’ is one of the cultivars of blueberries Atwood grows on his farm. He calls it a “tried and true variety” in his region north of the I-4 corridor.

Atwood started his career as an Extension agent for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) working in other fruit crops, but eventually he decided to focus on just blueberries. He’s familiar with the particular challenges of growing blueberries in Florida, where plants need to be pushed to grow off season to hit the necessary harvest window.

“It’s about using the right products at the right time to get the response from the plant you are looking for,” Atwood says. “In Florida, we are trying to manipulate the plant into doing something it doesn’t want to do. We’re trying to treat them like springtime in the winter, and summer in the spring, and in the fall we try to make them go dormant and treat them like winter.”

Healthy plants are better able to respond to the seasonal manipulation, Atwood says. He uses several Keyplex® nutritional products in his blueberry program to keep plants healthy and provide a boost during critical times of growth and fruit production.

“We use a growth regulator called Dormex® after the winter solstice to break dormancy and create a more uniform and abundant bud break,” Atwood says. “After that I like to use Keyplex’s Polystart to kickstart the plants to push the leaves and flowers and get them going. I use Calcium-Magnesium-Boron Plus (CalMagBoron) at flowering, and sometimes Blossom DP, too. CalMagBoron is less expensive and provides great nutrition. Blossom is more expensive, but it has seaweed in it and some nutrients that help with cell division. I also use the Keyplex Blueberry DP Formula during the summer to keep leaf tissue in alignment. It’s a micronutrient blend designed specifically for the needs of blueberries. If you use that product in the summertime, you’re going to really keep your plants nutritionally healthy.”


Spending Money on Plant Nutrition is an Insurance Policy

Atwood says the additional costs are worth it, because healthier plants tolerate stress events better, whether from drought, flooding, insects, or hurricanes. His blueberry plants were blown over by Hurricane Irma last fall and experienced root damage. Atwood says because his plants were already healthy, they were able to recover more quickly once they were staked back up.

“I think growers who use Keyplex nutritional products a lot use them as insurance,” Atwood says. “Keeping plants healthy is insurance against stress and keeps yields up even when the growing conditions aren’t ideal. The better growers know that if you spend money on your crop, you get great crops. People that try to cut back on inputs enter a spiral where their yields go down, so they have less money for inputs, and then yields go down further and so on. Ideally, as a grower, you want to maintain that high level of production, and to do that, you have to spend money. That’s just part of it. If your plants are hungry for some reason and you don’t spend the money, you are hurting your yield.”

Atwood says the Keyplex products he uses are easily tank mixed.

“Keyplex is an excellent tank-mix partner; in my opinion, it’s one of the safest nutritionals to use in a tank mix,” he says. “I feel really comfortable mixing insecticides and the Keyplex nutritionals together. I do avoid tank mixing the calcium products and fungicides. I think Keyplex has a very good reputation with growers in terms of producing high-quality, high-performing products. The only issue is that they aren’t cheap. But I find that they more than pay for themselves in the health of my plants and their yield.”