What is in this article?:
- David and Michael Hill: From muck to sand, veggies to blueberries
- A new beginning
- Drip and overhead irrigation
- Expects quick change
• In 1998, the state told Billy Long and David Hill to shut it all down. Seven years later, Long was inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame, and continued farming and partnered on another farm at Stuart, Fla. Hill moved on and looked for something different in agriculture, yet with profit potential.
• Now, Hill farms with his 25-year-old son, Michael, on high sandy ground outside Clermont, surrounded by orange trees. You won’t find citrus on their place, though — when they moved here and left everything behind in Zellwood they put their money into landscaping trees.
BLUEBERRIES REQUIRED a learning curve for Michael Hill, who farms with his father, David, a few miles outside Clermont, Fla.
Drip and overhead irrigation
He dug ditches for irrigation pipe. The blueberries have both drip irrigation at ground level and overhead irrigation, primarily intended for freeze protection.
“Drip gives better, more efficient water retention and gets better horizontal movement of water,” he says.
Michael started young plants in a greenhouse, then transplanted them to the field, where they quickly took off. Now pushing two years of age, they’re vigorous and healthy, and even produced some crop this year.
Growing blueberries required the acquisition of new skills, including how to work with hydrogen cyanamide, which is very toxic to humans. He explains that the chemical, “tricks the plant into thinking it has gone dormant,” in Florida’s warm climate, dropping leaves and putting on new ones a short time later. This enables it to hit the late-March through April market window.
“It has to be sprayed with the right mixture of water, at a certain temperature, when there’s no wind and no wet leaves. We have to really watch what’s going on with it.
“That’s been the biggest learning curve we’ve faced. No one in the industry can tell the exact time to do it. Every variety reacts differently to the chemical. That’s why we’ve separated varieties by rows. That’s the most important and critical thing.” It’s necessary, he says, to do a decent job with hydrogen cyanamide or the crop’s harvest timing could be seriously wrong.
“The blueberry industry here exists because of that market window — in that time period is all of Florida’s blueberry market.”
Things look promising enough in Florida’s blueberry world for them to put an additional 20 acres into the crop, although neither of the Hills expects the recent high blueberry prices enjoyed by Florida growers to continue long-term. They’re getting in position to be profitable even when prices drop,
“We don’t want to get in over our heads,” Michael says, “but we want enough acres so we can still make money even with lower margins. We don’t expect ridiculously high prices to continue long. I’m glad we didn’t put in all 40 acres at one time because there is a lot to learn about blueberries. I’ve learned a lot — but I think I have a lot more to go.”