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St. Patrick Farms keeping blueberries top pick in Georgia

Georgia is the Peach State. Well, at least that’s what the signs say.
License plates have the motto on it. So do billboards. And there’s lots of Peach-oriented names, especially in Atlanta.
However, in actuality, Georgia has fallen behind neighboring South Carolina in its production of peaches.
Georgia still produces its share of peaches, but it has become famous for another fruit as it has traded in the peach color for blue.The state is tops in its growth of blueberries.
Blueberries are Georgia’s most lucrative fruit crop.
St. Patrick Farms in Rocky Ford is part of Georgia’s statewide switch to blueberries. The farm is forecasting the production of half a million pounds of blueberries next year on its acreage.
Blueberries generated an estimated $94 million for Georgia growers in 2012, meaning the blueberry crop was more than three times as valuable as the nearly $30 million peach crop.
It takes three or four years for the bushes to reach full production. 
That is how long St. Patrick Farms has been growing berries and the farm has a contract to be a producer for Dole.
The farm owners invited the community out to visit at the 1900 Old Rocky Ford Road location for a “Red, White & Blueberry Celebration” July 3-5. Hot dogs, hamburgers, cold drinks and water were served to visitors on the Fourth of July.
People were able stop by and pick blueberries or have the staff pick the blueberries for them. 
U-pick was $2 a pound, while blueberries picked for you were $3 a pound. 
In just a little more than a decade, Georgia’s blueberry industry has grown into a global player.
Georgia growers started dabbling in blueberries three decades ago, but it took off in the late 1990s. 
Blueberries already are the highest value fruit in Georgia, worth about $250 million annually, surpassing the state’s famous peaches in value.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of blueberries, harvesting 564.4 million pounds of cultivated and wild blueberries.
Three types of blueberries are grown in Georgia: rabbiteye, southern highbush, and northern highbush. 
St. Patrick Farms grows rabbiteyes, which are distinctive with what looks like the eye of a bunny on each berry.
The rabbiteye blueberry is native to south Georgia, north Florida, and southeast Alabama.
Lonnie Collier Jr., who came to Rocky Ford from North Carolina to be part of St. Patrick Farms, said he adds the needed amount of sulfuric acid to put the bushes at just the right Ph. Bark is placed around the bushes to help with their growth and protect the roots that grow very shallow.
Rabbiteye blueberries require cross pollination for acceptable fruit set.
Collier is a certified beekeeper who has honeybee hives located on the farm to assist with pollination, but the bushes also receive help from bumblebees.
Georgia soil is sandy and acidic, the perfect environment for growing blueberries and the state has the largest amount of good blueberry soil in the deep south.
The state’s “good” blueberry soil is highly concentrated in South Georgia, making this region one of the best areas for blueberry growing. 
Georgia’s climate also helps with short winters that give the berries the chilling they need with nice warm spring and summer temperatures.
At St. Patrick Farms, a person may taste a sweet berry; one with a hint of grape favor; or even one that may have an apple taste.
Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, iron and fiber. They’re cholesterol-free, sodium-free and an important source of potassium. Blueberries contain only 80 calories per cup. 
The berries contain a variety of compounds. These include antioxidants, anthocyanosides, bacterial inhibitors, folic acid, vitamins A and C, carotenoids, ellagic acid and dietary fibers. 
Reportedly, the antioxidants in blueberries help protect the body against chronic diseases associated with aging.