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NC Blueberry Crop Looking Good Despite Late Freeze
North Carolina blueberry growers have nothing to be blue about this year, as the state's blueberry crop is shaping up to be one of the best in years.
"The late freeze delayed budding by about two weeks, so this is the first real week of  harvest for most growers," said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.  "Fortunately, the cold snap did not damage the crop, and fresh North Carolina blueberries should be available into July."
North Carolina is the seventh-largest producer of blueberries in the nation. In 2012, farmers in the state grew 41 million pounds of the fruit. Part of the state's success is attributed to improve cultivars that were field tested at the Horticultural Crops Research Station in Castle Hayne.
"I can't express how important research is to the future of agriculture in North Carolina," Troxler said. "Each of the department's 18 research stations has unique climate and soil conditions, giving researchers a living laboratory where they can investigate a variety of regional crops, forestry concerns, livestock, poultry and aquaculture."
At the Castle Hayne station, researchers test blueberry cultivars from across the nation on a 50-acre test plot. Bill Cline, a plant pathologist at the station, says now is the golden age of blueberry development.
"Several improved cultivars developed for the South have performed really well under North Carolina conditions, and these bushes are reaching the age where they represent a majority of the berries harvested." Cline said.
Cultivated varieties such as New Hanover and Columbus, both developed by N.C. State University, are replacing older varieties originally releases from the 1950s through the 1970s. Additional varieties developed in Florida, Georgia and New Jersey also have proven well-suited to withstand a variety of weather conditions during trial runs at the research station. 
About three-fourths of the state's blueberries are sold fresh at pick-your-own farms, farmers markets and retail stores. Diversification helps to improve the crop's ability to withstand a variety of weather conditions. It also helps to extend the growing season, giving consumers access to quality, locally grown blueberries longer.
More information about North Carolina blueberries is available at the N.C. Blueberry Council website, www.northcarolinablueberries.com.

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