Blueberries: The New Frontier in TRNC Agriculture

Blueberries

 Blueberries could serve as an alternative crop for the country’s agriculture, and efforts are underway to evaluate the fruit’s adaptability to the island, Director of the Agricultural Research Institute (TAE), Cem Karaca, has said, Kibris Postasi reports.

Karaca, alongside blueberry expert Dr. Burhanettin İmrak from Turkey’s Çukurova Agricultural Faculty, shared insights with TAK News Agency about blueberry cultivation and its potential for the island.

During a presentation for producers in the TRNC, İmrak emphasised the high demand for blueberries due to their rich antioxidant content and widespread application in the health industry. He also pointed out that this crop has only one fifth of the water demand compared to other fruits.

Summarising the ongoing research to determine the fruit’s suitability for the island, İmrak highlighted two main factors considered in the initial assessment of fruit varieties’ compatibility with the local climate.

The first factor is the chilling requirement. [The chilling requirement of a fruit is the minimum period of cold weather after which a fruit-bearing tree will blossom]

For deciduous fruit trees, the chilling requirement (the amount of cold needed for the tree to produce fruit) varies. We need to understand the duration and intensity of cold in Cyprus“, İmrak explained. He noted that, following more than a decade of research, a chilling map for the TRNC has been developed.

The second factor is identifying regions on the map that meet the plant’s chilling requirements. “Producers need to obtain information from agricultural departments when selecting varieties based on chilling requirements. Without this knowledge, mistakes are likely. Before setting up an orchard, producers should consult experts about the plant’s chilling needs. Although there are blueberry plots in Northern Cyprus, we don’t know if the varieties are suitable”, İmrak said.

For their trials, they selected varieties with low chilling requirements, believing that “appropriate blueberry varieties can be successfully grown in the TRNC“.

İmrak pointed out that the lowest chilling requirement among blueberry varieties is 200 hours. According to the chilling map, Yeşilırmak and Mehmetçik cannot meet this requirement, but Güzelyurt and Esentepe can.

GROWING CONDITIONS AND WATER REQUIREMENTS

İmrak highlighted that blueberries have a root depth of 25-30 cm and require significantly less water than citrus. While one decare [one quarter of an acre] of citrus needs 1,000 tons of water, blueberries require only 200 tons.

Emphasising that the blueberry variety they are focusing on is early-ripening and does not require pest control, İmrak said, “The fruit harvest ends in April, so there is no need for pest control“.

Raised Beds And Shading Required

He noted that the ideal soil pH for blueberries is 5.2 (acidic) and the high pH of TRNC soils is a major limiting factor for production. However, using organic matter like peat, cocopeat, and perlite can create an ideal growth environment in raised beds. Another important measure for blueberries is to protect the plants from the summer sun with a shading system.

İmrak stressed the importance of offering producers alternative products, including early and high-quality varieties. “We need to enhance regions with sufficient chilling, especially Güzelyurt, with new varieties. These could include apricot, plum, peach, nectarine, or blueberry. There are nectarine varieties that ripen by April 15. We need to consider these options“, he said.

Blueberries in hand

İmrak noted that a blueberry bush yields 6-8 kg, and 220 bushes can be planted per decare [roughly a quarter of an acre].

TAE’s Director Cem Karaca emphasised the need to efficiently utilise water from Turkey and suggested identifying alternative crops for producers.

Karaca mentioned that due to the high interest in blueberry cultivation, TAE has made it a priority. “One of TAE’s key responsibilities is to present producers with alternative crops that are compatible with the local environment”, he said.

He highlighted the significance of identifying early-ripening varieties, stating, “Early varieties always provide good income. The cost is also lower because pest control is not necessary or minimal when the weather is cooler“.

Karaca added, “We have conducted trials on nectarine, avocado, olive, peach, plum, apricot, and cherry varieties, and we can assist producers with these“.

He noted that it would be inappropriate to advise producers on alternative products that have not completed trials, but many trials are ongoing.

Karaca concluded, “We have initiated preparations to establish a blueberry trial plot in the upcoming planting season“.

Kibris Postasi

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