Southeast could become top Blueberry producer

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - University of Georgia researchers are trying to make the Southeast the top producer of blueberries in the country by developing a better way to harvest the fruit.

A team of UGA horticulturists will work with researchers in Florida, North Carolina, West Virginia and Mississippi using a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The team will work to find a way to mechanically collect the berries without dropping or damaging the fruit as much.

Researchers also will explore ways to genetically improve the berries to ward off diseases. The U.S. produces 75,000 acres annually, a third of which is grown in the South.

But UGA researchers say the region is on track to be the top producer in the next five years.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)