More consumers are recognizing blueberries as a nutritious food that is full of antioxidants and other health benefits.

To promote the production of blueberries and their nutritional value, specialists from Auburn University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service collaborated on http://www.extension.org/blueberries, a website with blueberry information for consumers and potential growers.

"Consumers recognize the health benefits of blueberries and it’s generating a lot of interest," said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for he Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. "Blueberries are very high in antioxidants, which are believed to prevent several diseases. In recent years, U.S. consumption has increased 65 percent. There’s also a lot of interest with producers in meeting the consumer demand for blueberries."

Most blueberries in Virginia are grown for local consumption, and many Virginia growers recognize the market potential of blueberries, said Reza Rafie, Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist at Virginia State University.

VSU is testing different varieties of blueberries under high tunnel conditions to investigate the possibility of extending their growing season.

"This variety trial will allow us to identify the early-, midseason- and late-producing blueberry varieties and also fruit quality," Rafie said.

VSU initiated a berry program with the goal of generating research information and providing the results to interested growers. The school also holds an Annual Berry Production and Marketing Conference.